Dharamsala: Against the stunning backdrop of the snow-clad Dhauladhar range, the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) Stadium will make its international debut on Sunday in the final ODI between India and England. The series started in western India with England taking the lead, but with each change of venue the team’s fortunes turned for the worse. Now, in the hill-station environment of Dharamsala, England will be hoping to avert a case of vertigo to gather end a chastening tour on a positive before they head to New Zealand.
England’s preparation for the upcoming tour and this summer’s ICC Champions Trophy at home has hit a roadblock with a 3-1 scoreline in the ODI leg of an otherwise landmark tour of India. Following a history of failures in bilateral tours to the country – 5-1, 5-0 and 5-0 since 2006 – England are now facing another embarrassment against an Indian team that has improved its own form after the Pakistan defeat.
What has let England down the most is the inconsistency of the batsmen. Ian Bell began the series with 85 but since then has scored 1, 25 and 10; sandwiched between innings of 75 and 76, Alastair Cook has a pair of 17s; thrice Kevin Pietersen has managed starts but only once crossed 50; Eoin Morgan has made 41, 0, 10 and 3; and Samit Patel’s 0 and 1 in the last two matches has shoved his ballistic 42 in the first ODI way into the past. A tough tour of New Zealand awaits and any further humiliation augurs badly against a side that displayed tremendous character in beating South Africa 2-1 in its own backyard.
With Craig Kieswetter axed from the squad to tour New Zealand, Jos Buttler will keep continue to keep wicket. Tim Bresnan could make way for Stuart Meaker. Patel will be lucky to hold his place after a flat series.
With the series in the bag, India may want to test their reserve strength in Dharamsala. There are murmurs of MS Dhoni having a niggle but the Indian captain is believed to be ready to play the dead rubber. There could be a much-awaited ODI debut for Cheteshwar Pujara who despite being in amazing domestic form has sat on the bench all series. In that case, a struggling Gautam Gambhir would make way.
The welcome return to form of Rohit Sharma in the Mohali match is a definite positive. Rohit had a forgettable 2012 and when promoted to open in place of Ajinkya Rahane, scored a polished 83 that gave India’s chase towards 258 a definitive drive. With the opening slots the most fragile of India’s set-up, another significant innings could propel Rohit into a new role and one which may, perhaps, end his poor run.
The other positives of this series have been Suresh Raina’s extended run of form – 50, 55 and 89* - and Ravindra Jadeja’s performances. Jadeja’s eight wickets at an average of 14.50 and economy rate of 3.48 are the best for India and without a doubt a major reason for their success. Jadeja has also weighed in with the bat, most stunningly with a belligerent 61 in Kochi. R Ashwin has been much better than he was against Pakistan, while the pace trio of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shami Ahmed and Ishant Sharma has been steady. Runs from Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh in Dharamsala would leave the Indian camp feeling better about itself.
India do not play ODIs until the Champions Trophy in June, so signing off with another win at a brand new stadium would be memorable for the fans.
India: 1 Gautam Gambhir/Cheteshwar Pujara, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Shami Ahmed, 11 Ishant Sharma
England: 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Ian Bell, 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Eoin Morgan, 5 Joe Root, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Samit Patel, 8 Tim Bresnan/Stuart Meaker, 9 James Tredwell, 10 Steven Finn, 11 Jade Dernbach