Puddles in the outfield at Barabati Stadium may rob the cricket fans of another exciting encounter as persistent rainfall in Cuttack made all the headlines in build-up to the fifth ODI between India and Australia that is almost certain to be curtailed, if not washed out, on Saturday.
India, after the washout in Ranchi, are left with the challenging task of winning the last three games to win the seven-match series and would love to get a full game, but it seems highly unlikely to get 100 overs on Saturday with rains continuing to lash most districts of Odisha.
Australia lead the series 2-1 and another win will help them take an unbeatable lead, leaving India at best a chance to level the series. And in case of washout in Cuttack, the visitors will just have to knock out the hosts once in the last two games to win the series.
The groundstaff have done their bit covering the pitch area with a thick multi-layer cover, but to remove the water and get it ready for the match, the rain needs to stop, followed by some sunshine. However, the MeT department has forecast continued rain over the weekend, turning the hopes of a match even grimmer.
Practising in the arena has been out of question for the teams, with continuous rain turning the outfield into a swimming pool. In 1996, a match between both the teams was washed out without a ball being bowled; same can happen on Saturday. The curator, Pankaj Patnaik, however, seemed optimistic. "It rained heavily. The pitches are covered with a width of 30 feet and are intact. If the rain stops today [Friday], we can get the ground ready," he said.
The Orissa Cricket Association has plans to rope in the services of a chopper to dry out the outfield, but that again depends on rains relenting. And in the eventuality of a washout, they have the match insured to minimize their financial losses.
So far, this series has been a battle of batsmen, barring the Pune ODI where Indian batting failed. But if a match takes place on Saturday, moisture in the track and overcast conditions will provide fast bowlers ample assistance.
India's bowling remains a concern, as despite Mohammad Shami's opening three-wicket burst in Ranchi, the rest could not contain Australia who went on to post 295. Poor fielding, which included dropping as many as six catches, also contributed to Australia's challenging total.
In Ranchi, India replaced Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar with Shami and Jaydev Unadkat, and the two are likely to get another run here with Dhoni expected to retain the same eleven. Ravichandran Ashwin's extended poor form is a cause of concern. Dhoni has Amit Mishra available to replace Ashwin, but he seems to have more faith in his Chennai Super Kings team-mate than the legspinner.
The batting wears a settled look with three Indian batsmen scoring centuries so far, but Yuvraj Singh's silent bat since his brisk 77 in the lone T20 is a worry. However, nothing is likely to change in the top seven, with Ravindra Jadeja as the bowling allrounder.
Australia have most of their batsmen, led by captain George Bailey's 318 runs in the series so far, in form, except Adam Voges and vice captain Brad Haddin; and the visiting skipper cautioned his team against taking Shami lightly. "Shami bowled very well. He's someone we haven't seen in the series and he was a little bit quicker than what we expected. That's something to be pretty aware of for the rest of the series," Bailey, who is the series' top-scorer with an average of 106, said after the washout in Ranchi.
Australia's bowling has been a few notches ahead of India's. Led by Mitchell Johnson, who has consistently clocked over 145 kmph, the visitors have rattled Indian batsmen with pace and bounce. And like in Ranchi, Bailey is once again expected to go in with an unchanged XI with Xavier Doherty as the lone specialist slow-bowler available.
India: 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 R Vinay Kumar, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Jaydev Unadkat.
Australia: 1 Aaron Finch, 2 Phil Hughes, 3 Shane Watson, 4 George Bailey (wk), 5 Adam Voges, 6 Glenn Maxwell, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 James Faulkner, 9 Mitchell Johnson, 10 Clint McKay, 11 Xavier Doherty.