CRICKET / Relentless Pakistan looks for a clean sweep; Dhoni doubtful
With the series decided, much sheen is off the final India-Pakistan one-dayer on Sunday. Perhaps, it was a series that the Indian cricketers were least interested in. With the English team back home for the Christmas break, the Indians too wanted to use the time to introspect and carry out the necessary corrections, if possible. But, that was not to be.
As things stand, this battered lot finds itself preparing to prevent a 3-0 sweep. Jaded and repeatedly jolted, this Indian team continues to pay for the collective failure of its batsmen. To add to the woes, Mahendra Singh Dhoni is suffering from a sore back and Dinesh Karthik is his back-up.
Under mounting criticism, the team searches for a face-saving victory that could well serve as a much-needed morale booster going into the five-match ODI series against England.
Pakistan has achieved its objective. But Misbah-ul-Haq, 38, may not get another opportunity to blank India. Against a dispirited host, this inspired Pakistan team appears on course.
Looking at India’s dismal showings, particularly with the bat, the call for changes was to be expected. This batting line-up is almost the same that helped India win the 2011 World Cup. But presently, the champion appears far from one.
Virender Sehwag looks less assured and Gautam Gambhir more vulnerable to the away-going deliveries. The way Gambhir continues to poke his bat at such deliveries gives no confidence to those in the dressing room. How often has the outside edge got to the slip cordon and the inside edge found the stumps!
Virat Kohli is searching for the form that won him the “Cricketer of the Year” this week. Barring one knock, he consistently fell cheaply to poor stroke selection in Tests against England and that reflects in his lack of confidence.
Less said the better about Rohit Sharma’s success-rate in international cricket.
Suresh Raina, once considered a dependable finisher, is either struggling to get a start or failing to build on the rare occasions when he begins well. Yuvraj Singh, too, has been inconsistent. Most of Dhoni’s recent runs have not come in a winning cause.
All-rounder Ravinder Jadeja, who has seldom contributed with the bat, did well at Kolkata but overall, his bowling has been more of a liability when it matters.
The Indian fans have lost count of the number of straight sixes hit off him when the need of the hour was to contain.
As a captain Dhoni maintains the seven-batsmen-four bowler strategy that once worked so well. However, the available bowling options look woefully short of quality. Upfront, Bhuvneshwar Kumar has come up with a few heart-warming performances but the rest fail to inspire any confidence. Dhoni’s famous luck seems to have run out. His intuitive decisions no longer produce the desired results. However, for a team struggling, even a new captain will be of little help.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has once again found performers against India.
Going through a transition phase, Pakistan made the most of this opportunity. India, already on a slippery slope, could not deal with the repeated blows.
It was meant to be a contest between the Indian batsmen and the Pakistan bowlers. But so far, it has been a one-horse race.
The pace trio of an abnormally tall Mohammad Irfan, a disciplined Junaid Khan and a determined Umar Gul have done enough damage upfront. Though the quality of Saeed Ajmal’s arsenal was sure to challenge the Indians, even skipper Mohammad Hafeez’s off-spin has done the trick.
Nasir Jamshed’s back-to-back centuries have contributed decisively to Pakistan’s series triumph. If India wants to prevent a clean sweep, it will have to first stop Jamshed from scoring big again.
With record-low temperatures this season in the Capital, the conditions at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground will be far from ideal.
The team bowling second will have to deal with dew and, probably, defeat.
The teams (from):
India: M.S. Dhoni (capt.), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, R. Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashoke Dinda, Ishant Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Ajinkya Rahane, Amit Mishra, Dinesh Karthik and Shami Ahmed.
Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (capt.), Imran Farhat, Nasir Jamshed, Mohammad Hafeez, Younis Khan, Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Irfan, Wahab Riaz, Haris Sohail, Junaid Khan, Azhar Ali and Anwar Ali.
Umpires: Billy Bowden (New Zealand) and Sudhir Asnani; Third Umpire: Vineet Kulkarni; Match Referee: Roshan Mahanama (Sri Lanka).
Match starts at 12 noon.