Cold India, hot Pakistan, chilly Delhi
Match factsJanuary 6, 2012
Start time 1200 (0630 GMT)
Big PictureIndia couldn't have chosen a better venue for the last ODI of the series. It is cold in Delhi. In the morning, there is fog. In the afternoon, light doesn't stay. A bit like the Indian cricket team right now, caught in the winter, looking desperately for that small window between fog and fading light.
This winter has gone on for too long, though. It all began in the West Indies in 2011 when they aborted a chase, and now almost every week they lose another bit of the remaining pride. Test series in England and Australia: lost. CB Series and Asia Cup: not even close to finals. World Twenty20: didn't even try to make the next round. Then came a home Test series loss to England. And now they are staring at only their second whitewash in a home ODI series, the first since 1983-84. If India lose in Delhi, all they will have left to cherish is bilateral ODI series in Sri Lanka and the fact that an Indian team is always going to win the IPL.
On the other side has been warm winter sunshine. Only rarely do you see modern ODI attacks that provide no weak link. Least of all, Pakistan, because you expect - it's more a fear but it often comes true - at least one of the bowlers to wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Here, all four, plus Mohammad Hafeez, have applied collective pressure, not through defensive bowling but by looking to get batsmen out. The fielding and wicketkeeping, which has often let Pakistan down, has been faultless too. India have had no escape, and it shows in the results.
What is more commendable is that they have done so without any warm-up, without much cricket, and with a shaky batting line-up. Now they are one more such display short of sealing the first whitewash in a bilateral ODI series between India and Pakistan.
Form guide (Completed games, most recent first)India: LLWWW
In the spotlight
India under MS Dhoni turned sitting back into an artform, a successful artform, both with the bat and with the ball. A huge part of their ODI success was that they did well in the middle overs with bits-and-pieces players. Now that comfort has been taken away, and MS Dhoni the tactician has looked rattled. The new regulation of having at least five players inside the circle has been more in tune with Pakistan, whose nature it is to attack.
Dhoni, however, has a sore back now, and might not even captain on Sunday. And India don't even have a clear deputy should he not recover in time. Asked who will captain if he doesn't make it, Dhoni said, "Let's hope that I play. We'll see tomorrow."*
If Dhoni does miss out, India will surely miss Dhoni the batsman, who has almost been the sole fighter, but in a perplexing manner he went from being the boy on the burning deck he was in Chennai to the violinist on the sinking Titanic in Kolkata. Towards the end, he didn't hit, he didn't take singles, and just blocked his way through. Was it a message for the rest of the side? We will never know. Being the best ODI batsman in the side, he at least needs to take more responsibility and bat higher in the order so that he is not always firefighting from five down for nothing.
The Pakistan XI is too small a place for both Azhar Ali and Misbah-ul-Haq, their only weak link so far. Perhaps they have both Azhar and Misbah as emergency back-up when the more attacking batsmen fail, but so far in the series they have only been part of spells that have taken away momentum from Pakistan. Perhaps they are both still in the side because of the injury to Asad Shafiq and the unreliability of Umar Akmal, but this is not a bad time for them to show they are relevant on their own.
India will be under pressure to give Ajinkya Rahane a game. Or they might want to give the misfiring openers one final chance before they drop - as is widely being anticipated - at least one of them in the selection meeting that will happen on the same day. In the bowling department, India are not exactly brimming with options.
The Dhoni decision will be made on the morning of the match.
India (possible): 1 & 2 Two out Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag and Ajinkya Rahane, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt. & wk)/ Dinesh Karthik, 7 R Ashwin, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Ashok Dinda.
Pakistan didn't make any changes to the combination when the series was alive, but their chairman of selectors, Iqbal Qasim, has hinted at a few experiments now that the series is won.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Nasir Jamshed, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt.), 6 Shoaib Malik, 7 Kamran Akmal (wk), 8 Junaid Khan, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Mohammad Irfan.
Pitch and conditions
Staging cricket in north India is a challenge in winter. Ranji matches have all been hit by fog and bad light. The groundsman, Venkat Sundaram, has been quoted in DNA saying he has always asked the BCCI to not stage matches in Delhi at this time of the year. In fact, Feroz Shah Kotla has hosted only three international matches in January.
However, Sundaram says the pitch is ready. The match strip produced a result in three days and a bit in the first-class match between Delhi and Odisha in November, but don't expect such help for seamers in the ODI.
The temperature is likely to swing between 4C and 15C. Fog and dew will be factors too, which is why we have the game starting at noon.
Stats and Trivia
- India have been whitewashed at home only once, by West Indies, who were intent on payback after the World Cup-final loss, in 1983-84.
- Pakistan and Australia are the only teams to have beaten India in a home ODI series in the last 10 years.
- Younis Khan needs 108 runs to become the seventh Pakistan player to reach 7000 ODI runs
- This series is shaping up to be the first in India since early 2007 with not a single score of 300
*1100GMT, January 5: The article was updated after it emerged that Dhoni had a sore back
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo