In a series marked by momentum shifts and injury updates, India and Australia will strive for extra impetus as the Hero Honda Cup enters its final phase.
The fifth One Day International of the seven-match series at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium here on Thursday, pits two teams that are level at 2-2 and are well aware that a victory here would be critical as they wing their way next to Guwahati and Mumbai.
The teams are at a venue where the past provides a mixed bag. India lost both its matches here while the local Indian Premier League team, Deccan Chargers, is yet to win a game in its home base.
Australia meanwhile defeated India here in 2007 and recently New South Wales won the Champions League as Brett Lee shone bright. Ironically Lee is back in Australia with an elbow injury.
The Indian team had shown signs of progress right through the series until the batting melt-down at Mohali. Openers Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag have flickered and faded with brief alliances — 25/1, 21/1, 37/1 and 40/1 — though skipper M.S. Dhoni believes that a substantial partnership is just around the corner.
Tendulkar needs another seven runs to scale the 17,000 ODI run summit and if he can add a 93 to that, Dhoni will take it any day.
Tendulkar and Sehwag’s inability to build on their starts has aggravated the pressure on Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh in the middle-order where the youngsters have failed to chip in though Suresh Raina did score a 62 at Nagpur.
The team, however, had some welcome news as Gautam Gambhir has been cleared to play on Thursday.
Yuvraj knelt down on the pitch here on Wednesday and kissed the turf before joining his team-mates for a touch of football. The southpaw scored a hundred in a losing cause against Australia here in 2007 and hopefully this time around he will get his runs as well as shape an Indian victory.
The Indian bowling has found the right mix in the beginning with Ashish Nehra’s nippy left-arm swing complementing Praveen Kumar’s adroit change of pace. The lone worry was Ishant Sharma’s off-day at Mohali.
Nehra is down with a cough but Dhoni indicated that the seamer will play.
The spinners meanwhile have contributed with the Australians yet to get a grip on left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja while Harbhajan Singh is gradually regaining the spring in his step though as a tail-ender with heart, he has been top-class.
The rival camp meanwhile is enthused by Shane Watson’s belated return to form as the all-rounder lends balance to an injury-afflicted team. Shaun Marsh, who stepped in for an injured Tim Paine, has been tentative and captain Ricky Ponting spent some time with his opener at the nets.
Ponting, Michael Hussey and others have displayed form but a century has remained elusive.
The Australian team, that has started to resemble a casualty ward full of injured personnel, suffered another blow when all-rounder Moises Henriques was ruled out with a right hamstring strain.
Ponting and selector David Boon had a long chat during the pre-match practice session as stitching a relevant and fit team combination, has become a perennial headache for the visitor.
A struggling Mitchell Johnson has added to Australia’s bowling woes while left arm seamer Doug Bollinger has lent hope with his incisive spells.
Meanwhile the pitch is expected to be a good one-day track offering runs and bounce. The series is at the crossroads and the team that wins here on Thursday night, will take a key ingredient in its kitbag to Guwahati — self-belief.
The teams: India: M.S. Dhoni (captain), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, Praveen Kumar, A. Mishra and Sudeep Tyagi. Coach: Gary Kirsten.
Australia: Ricky Ponting (captain), Michael Hussey (vice-captain), Cameron White, Shane Watson, Graham Manou (wicket-keeper), Shaun Marsh, Adam Voges, Mitchell Johnson, Doug Bollinger, Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus, Jon Holland, James Hopes, Clinton McKay. Coach: Tim Nielsen.
Umpires: Asoka De Silva and Shavir Tarapore; Third Umpire: Sanjay Hazare.
Match referee: Chris Broad. Match starts at 2.30 p.m.