India to persist with Sehwag at the top
Virender Sehwag's form, or lack of it, at the top of the order in the one-day game has been a concern for over a season now, but for the moment, the team management is keeping faith in his hit-and-miss method. With the cushion of a 3-0 series lead, Rahul Dravid was understandably upbeat ahead of the game in Kochi, and he insisted that Sehwag would be given more opportunities to indulge the appetite for destruction that once made him such a feared one-day opener.
"At the moment, we want to give him some more opportunities at the top of the order," said Dravid. "He is having a tough run of late. For us, it is critical to try and get him back into form and we will do whatever it takes. What he does for us when he fires at the top is very destructive, something he has done with a lot of success."
Dravid opened with Sehwag in Goa, but with the exciting Robin Uthappa having been drafted in, that experiment is unlikely to be continued. Sehwag, with a sub-30 average and only four 50s in the last year, struggled in the Tests against England, undone by the short ball directed at the body, and his travails have continued in the one-dayers, despite there being no Steve Harmison or Matthew Hoggard - yet to feature in the pajama games - to torment him.
Sehwag moved down the order against South Africa last November, smacking a game-winning 77 at Bangalore, but was then restored to the top. But from Dravid's responses today, the middle-order option will be the last one explored. "We have a lot of options, but we will see as the series progresses."
Dravid was aware that victory at Kochi - India have won three of four games at the Nehru Stadium - would seal the series, but he reiterated that proximity to the finishing line wouldn't distract a side that excelled in dead rubbers against Sri Lanka (a 6-1 romp) and Pakistan (demolished 4-1, after the opening game was lost). "It will be nice to win it," he said. "But I do not think we will deviate too much from our plans. We will try and play the cricket which we played for the last three games."
Having played three matches in the space of a week, rest and recuperation were high on the agenda for the Indian team, with Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Irfan Pathan giving the practice session a miss. ''It's not that we will forget to bat or bowl in one day," said Dravid with a hint of cheek when asked if all was well within the side.
In his last outing here, Dravid nurdled a century against Pakistan, in conditions so oppressive that he had to be administered a drip afterwards. India triumphed in similar conditions at Goa, and Dravid reckoned that the weather would certainly be a factor on a pitch that he expected to be full of runs. "It gets quite hot and humid here," he said. "You need a lot of mental strength and ability to cope with it."
Unless England can summon up hitherto unseen reserves of energy and skill, the series will be over by sundown tomorrow, and Dravid will have even more leeway to ease the likes of Sehwag and Mohammad Kaif back into the groove.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo