Battered and bruised by yet another series defeat, India’s struggling cricketers will seek to restore some pride when they go into the third and final ODI against arch-rivals Pakistan in New Delhi on Sunday with the future of some of the under-performing stars at stake.
The collective failure of the top order even in home conditions has hurt the team badly in recent times and the hosts will need a huge spark of inspiration to prevent the spirited Pakistanis from achieving a 3-0 clean sweep.
Clearly, the pressure will be on the Indians who have been plagued by an inexplicable form slump of their star batsmen while the limited and inexperienced bowling resources have compounded the misery for the hosts who have now sunk to a new low with the recent debacles.
With the series already out of their grasp, the Indians may experiment by giving a chance to some of their bench players but whether they can change the team’s sliding fortunes remains to be seen in a day-night game which will start at noon to neutralise the dew factor.
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, in good form with the bat, has been at a loss to explain the repeated failures and there have been suggestions that he should promote himself up the order considering the poor form of the top half.
The hosts lost the first game in Chennai by six wickets and the second in Kolkata by 85 runs to give their arch foes their first series win on Indian soil since 2004-05.
Unless the Indians put up a far better display, the Ferozeshah Kotla could be a witness another drubbing for Dhoni and his struggling men.
Ajinkya Rahane, who has surprisingly not played a single match despite his decent showing in the two T20 games prior to the ODI series, is almost certain to feature in the playing eleven tomorrow.
The two experienced openers — Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir — have invariably failed to give a good start and that has hurt the team badly. The Indians may contemplate benching either Sehwag or Gambhir and let Rahane open the innings.
The form of Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina has been patchy and none of them have shown consistency nor have they shouldered the responsibility.
In the absence of retired greats like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, the experienced players in the team have not shown the willingness to take the batting load.
Dhoni has acknowledged time and again that the batting has let the team down.
“Everybody knows it’s disappointing. When you are going through transition, you want your senior players to perform and groom the juniors. Once two-three wickets start falling, you need someone to soak up the pressure and consolidate the innings”, Dhoni said.
“But again our batting was disappointing. It’s important to have wickets in hand in the end. If you have wickets in hand, it’s possible to score 80-odd runs in the last 10 overs,” Dhoni said.
India’s bowling also does not have the bite to pose much problems for the strong Pakistani batting line-up which has been well-served by left-handed opener Nasir Jamshed who has cracked back-to-back centuries.
The trio of Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda and Bhuvneshwar Kumar neither have the pace nor the consistency to evoke any confidence while spinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have also not been in the of best form.
The absence of a genuine all-rounder in the team has hurt the Indians, particularly with the new rules coming into play.
The new fielding rules, which allow only four fielders outside the 30-yard circle, have made it difficult for Dhoni to use his part-timers like Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina for their full quota of 10 overs.
That has really handicapped the Indians who have always preferred an additional batsman with the part-timers filling up the fifth bowler’s slot.
The home team may toy with the idea of giving a chance to rookie paceman Mohammad Shami Ahmed and leg spinner Amit Mishra, both of whom have warmed the benches in the first two games.
While India’s cup of woes has been brimming, it is a totally different story for the Pakistanis who have found everything going in their favour.
The batting has clicked with Jamshed in stunning form while the experienced Mohammad Hafeez and Younis Khan have also chipped in with useful contributions.
But it is their bowling which has really made the difference, particularly the potent pace trio of Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan and Umar Gul.
Junaid has shown an exceptional ability to swing the ball and used the damp conditions in Chennai to devastating effect by ripping through India’s top order.
Junaid was impressive in Kolkata also where he got reverse swing going and the jittery Indians must find a way to tackle him.
Irfan, the towering 7 feet one inch speedster, has also proved to be quite a handful for the Indians, getting the ball to bounce disconcertingly while Gul has also been impressive.
In the spin department, Saeed Ajmal can prove to be a wily customer while Hafeez and Shoaib Malik are good at doing the containing job.
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul Haq could not have asked for a better show from his teammates who have outplayed the Indians in every department of the game.
“Indian batsmen are struggling for quite a long time. But I think our bowlers exploited the conditions better. Normally we get flat pitches here in India. But both the pitches — in Chennai and Kolkata — were challenging for batsmen,” he said.
Misbah is now looking for a clean sweep and it should not be difficult.
The toss may play a big role given the dew factor and the chilly winter conditions. The team which wins the toss, may opt to bowl first as dew may hamper spinners later.
Though the match has been rendered inconsequential, a full house is expected at the Ferozeshah Kotla with tickets being sold out for the Sunday showdown.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (c&wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra and Mohammad Shami Ahmed.
Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (c), Mohammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal (wk), Junaid Khan, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Irfan, Anwar Ali, Haris Sohail, Imran Farhat, Umar Akmal, Wahab Riaz, Zulfiqar Babar.
Match starts: 12 noon (IST).