One thing is abundantly clear – India no longer boast any home advantage. Having lost the Test series to England, drawn two short Twenty20 series and then surrendering this ODI series to Pakistan, the hosts are now staring at a total blackout ahead of the final match in Delhi on Sunday.
A consolation victory is all India can now aim for at the Feroz Shah Kotla, where excessively chilly conditions will assist the seam bowlers early in the match. With a far superior bowling attack which has shredded India’s top order in consecutive matches, completing a clean sweep of their old rivals is a serious possibility for Misbah-ul-Haq's team.
Pakistan's 85-run win at Eden Gardens – which extended their dominance over India to 4-0 at the storied venue – decided the series and consigned the final fixture to dead-rubber status. However, as is the case with such types of matches, there remain a number of individual narratives to follow. Can India avert 3-0? Will they stick with an aging Virender Sehwag? Is there anything MS Dhoni can do in the field to inspire this crocked team? Can Nasir Jamshed make it four centuries in a row against India?
Avoiding humiliation should act as a motivator for India. If the thought of preventing their second bilateral series whitewash – the last was 5-0 to West Indies in 1983-84 – at home does not inspire this team, then there is little hope for the future. India should be desperate for an authoritative performance to set them up for the five-match series against England starting January 11, but they have several worries not least on the batting front.
Neither of the openers has made an impression in the series, while woeful batting efforts from Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja has left the middle order decidedly flimsy. Last year's sensation Virat Kohli has failed in both innings to pile on the misery, leaving Dhoni to shore up the innings. Dhoni has done so with unbeaten innings of 113 and 54, though that second knock did little but inflate the captain’s batting average.
With his place in the squad to face England in doubt, Sehwag may be dropped and Ajinkya Rahane sent to open with Gautam Gambhir. The local boy has also endured a poor series, bowled in both innings. India need players they can rely on for the England series, and currently Sehwag and Gambhir don't look reliable.
India's bowlers have also struggled to make much of an impression in the series. Ishant Sharma has been the pick, though far from intimidating; Ashok Dinda too erratic; rookie Bhuvneshwar Kumar was very good in Chennai, pedestrian in Kolkata; R Ashwin has stemmed runs but not been a wicket-taking force; and the role of the fifth bowler remains a major worry. Yuvraj has struggled, Suresh Raina is not a reliable option and only Jadeja did the job with a tidy bowling effort in Kolkata. But can he hold his place as purely a left-arm spinner? No. But is he a better bet than Rohit Sharma, who has failed miserably in 2012? The answer is, sadly, yes.
It could also be time for Ashwin to get a break, making way for an ODI return for legspinner Amit Mishra. The uncapped Bengal medium-pacer Shami Ahmed could be in line for a debut, if the management gives Dinda the boot. India's selectors have tough calls to take in the brief gap between the end of this series and the start of the England ODIs. Sunday's match in Delhi could be extremely significant.
With a good mix of youth and experience, Pakistan have beaten India soundly. In doing so, they became just the second team after Australia to inflict home ODI series defeats on India in the last decade. In fact, it was their second after the 6-2 success in 2004-05. Jamshed has been excellent at the top, while with the ball the left-arm quick Junaid Khan has regularly confounded India's brittle line-up. The hulking Mohammad Irfan has used his height to good effect, troubling India's top order with bounce. The way Saeed Ajmal bounced back on Thursday with three wickets in one over, after a poor showing in the first match, gives Pakistan an added incentive.
For a team still without a home, and reduced to playing scattered series in the UAE, a 3-0 win over India would be huge ahead of a full tour of South Africa starting in February.
India: 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag/Ajinkya Rahane, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin/Amit Mishra, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Ashok Dinda/Shami Ahmed
Pakistan: 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Nasir Jamshed, 3 Azhar Al/Umar Akmal, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Shoaib Malik, 7 Kamran Akmal (wk), 8 Umar Gul, 9 Saeed Ajmal, 10 Junaid Khan, 11 Mohammad Irfan