Fear of another washout looms large as India take on Australia in the fifth ODI on Saturday, faced with the challenge of winning the remaining three games to clinch the seven-match bilateral cricket series.
The visitors held on to the 2-1 lead as rain had the final say in the fourth ODI in Ranchi and it could well be a similar result tomorrow given the bad weather.
The ground reality here is in fact grimmer due to torrential rains for the last four days following the formation of a low-pressure area in the the Andhra-Telengana region. The Met department has forecast more showers in the next couple of days.
The pitches in the centre are under a three-layer cover with certain patches in the ground still damp and water-logged to deny both the teams practice on the eve of the match.
The groundsmen were the ones in action working overtime to make the stadium ready as hosts Odisha Cricket Association were fearing a repeat of 1996, when a match between both the teams was washed out without a ball being bowled.
“It rained heavily the pitches are covered with a width of 30ft and are intact. If the rain stops today, we can get the ground ready,” local curator Pankaj Patnaik said.
The OCA, which is hosting an ODI for the first time since November 29, 2011 when India won against the West Indies by one wicket, has grand plans of drying up the field using choppers but more rain could hamper that.
Despite the non-stop showers for the last four days, tickets for the 45,000-capacity stadium have almost been sold out.
Starved of International cricket, the excitement was palpable in this part of the country as large number of fans gathered both at the airport and team hotel yesterday to catch glimpse of the stars.
After being thrashed 0-4 by India in the Test series earlier this year, Australia have come back strongly in the ongoing ODIs and their batsmen have shown they are not intimidated by big totals.
India’s wayward bowling and fielding has only helped the visitors’ cause.
After India’s resounding victory chasing down 360 by nine wickets, the home side while defending a stiff 304 was severely let down by a disastrous 30-run 48th over by Ishant Sharma in Mohali, something that has become the talking point of the series.
The pacer was omitted along with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and replacement Shami Ahmed showed fine promise bowling consistently around the 140kph mark extracting excellent swing and recording a career-best 3/42 haul in Ranchi.
It was for the first time in the series the dangerous Aussie top-order was troubled by pace as Shami’s fine in-swing castled Aaron Finch and Shane Watson.
The performance would certainly guarantee Shami a place in the remaining matches of the series but other bowlers’ performance is something to ponder about.
Left-arm seamer Jaydev Unadkat, the second replacement in the fourth ODI, hardly troubled the Aussies with his slow pace but an economical Bhuvneshwar should be a better ploy in the pace attack.
In slow bowling, Ravichandran Ashwin’s profligacy is also something to worry about.
Vinay Kumar has been costly but the medium pacer, who denied George Bailey and Glenn Maxwell centuries in two crucial wickets in Ranchi, would definitely have something in his favour.
Another thing that would be on Dhoni’s mind is the poor catching in Ranchi where the butter-finger Indian fielders dropped as many as six including two each of Bailey and Maxwell.
As for the batsmen, the new ODI rules are helping them revel on flat Indian pitches, making a mockery of the bowlers.
Three Indian batsmen have posted centuries including the off-colour Rohit Sharma, while Virat Kohli is in ominous form with two half-centuries and a hundred to be the leading rungetter with 229 runs (at an average of 109.04).
The batting looks more or less balanced even even though Yuvraj Singh has been silent after his fiery 77 not out in the T20I in Rajkot.
The Aussies, on the other hand, would be wary of Shami’s bowling as was admitted by their skipper Bailey after the washed-out ODI in Ranchi.
“Obviously Shami bowled very well. He’s someone we haven’t seen in the series and he was a little bit quicker than what we expected. That’s something to be pretty aware of for the rest of the series,” Bailey had said in Ranchi.
Bailey has led by example for far being the highest rungetter (318) as an Aussie captain in a bilateral series. He is also the leading scorer in the series averaging 106.
And in bowling they boast of a fiery pace attack with Mitchell Johnson touching the 150kph mark but would look to improve in the spin department with Xavier Doherty being the only option.