India v England, 5th ODI, Guwahati

Time to test the bench strength

The Preview by Anand Vasu at Guwahati

April 8, 2006

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Virender Sehwag will captain in place of Rahul Dravid © Getty Images
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For years, bilateral one-day series India played at home went right down to the wire. It was almost a joke, and one the extra-suspicious in the anti-corruption unit did not find funny, that the scores were inevitably level when the final match of a series began. In recent times, though, India have comfortably settled the issue at the earliest, and so it has been with England, coming into the fifth one-day international at Guwahati blanked out and with no chance to pull things back significantly.

Team issues

In Kochi, England finally managed to put their best team on the park. Through injury, and Duncan Fletcher's penchant for going into ODIs with what works in the Tests, England stuck to fast bowlers, and struggled to get their three best ODI batsmen in appropriate slots. In Kochi, though, they gave Gareth Batty a break from sightseeing and a chance to roll his arm over, and also clubbed Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Andrew Flintoff together at Nos. 3, 4 and 5. Whether they will stick to this formula, or again chop things around, perhaps finding place for Ian Bell in the slot that may be freed up if Geraint Jones is ruled out tomorrow, remains to be seen.

India's selection matters are, for the moment, a pleasant pain. With only six specialist batsmen in the side it's safe to say that Robin Uthappa is extremely likely to make his debut, and that Venugopal Rao will get a game. A squad thick with bowlers suggests that RP Singh, who has waited long, will get a go, while VRV Singh waits just that bit longer to be eased into the eleven.

The Gods must be ...

The meteorological department has predicted thundershowers for Sunday afternoon, so don't be surprised if it is bright and sunny. Saturday dawned fine but as the sun reached its zenith the clouds rolled in from the hills, turning everything shades of grey. It has been raining intermittently all week, and the weather could very well end up having the final say.

Squeeze them in

Rahul Dravid has been better than his predecessor in getting through fifty overs in time, and on Sunday, weather permitting, Virender Sehwag will get his chance. He, and Andrew Flintoff, have to be on their toes, for the light on a good day will not be fit for play once five o `clock comes round. There has been a suggestion that play should start earlier than the scheduled 9am, but this seems unlikely. It's difficult to implement changes of this kind at short notice with the all-powerful television channels having already scheduled their programming.

I'm 164

If he does play Robin Uthappa will become the 164th person to wear an Indian ODI shirt. He has been picked not on the weight of the runs he has scored in domestic cricket - he averages a modest 32 in first-class cricket and a more impressive 39 in List A one-dayers, but the manner in which he bats has caught the eye. Exuberant and strokeful, his aggressive play, backed up by serious ability in the field meant that the selectors saw merit in elevating him to the Indian team on the promise of potential.

Small-town excitement

Long before the teams had arrived in the city on their chartered flight hundreds filled a stand, waiting impatiently for a glimpse of their heroes. The fact that the teams were staying in a hotel that straddled the ground made matters worse, and when they walked down the corridor that led to their rooms the fans roared. Even when the skies opened and the drenched them in a heavy downpour, intermittently pelting down hailstones, they stayed, waiting for the teams to come to the ground to practice. The ground had taken a heavy soaking, though, and sections of the outfield were waterlogged, making life miserable for the groundstaff. The square was covered, and the teams will be hoping that this is not a preview of things to come.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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