Playing for pride
The MPCA stadium in Indore is doing its best to get dressed for the final match of this India-England ODI series. Rahul Dravid is back in the mix after a two-game break, and England have just tasted their maiden success in the shorter version of the game. While it would be untrue to suggest that there is everything to play for, considering India won the series with a convincing 4-0 scoreline some eight days ago at Kochi, many individuals still have to enough reasons to push themselves, if merely wearing national colours was not motivation enough.
He may have been the most dangerous batsman in the Tests, and even batted for some period on every single day of a Test (Mohali) but Andrew Flintoff is yet to register a three-figure score in the series - not even having conceded 100 runs in any bowling effort. When he takes the field, on Saturday, Flintoff will be playing his 100th ODI for England. When asked about the milestone, Dravid, who made his debut just three years before Flintoff (in 1996) and has played 184 ODIs more, allowed himself a chuckle, "It's a terrific achievement. He's been around for a long time, it just shows England don't play as much one-day cricket as some other teams. It will be a big day for him." Dhoni, who made his debut as late as December 2004 has already played 40 ODIs while Yuvraj Singh, whose first knock in ODIs was in 2000 is already a veteran of 147 ODIs.
One of the keys to India's success in limited overs cricket in recent times has been the flexibility in the team thanks to the presence of Irfan Pathan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the lower order. What the team lacked, was seriously on the lookout for, was a spin-bowling allrounder. While it is too early to say they have found one in Ramesh Powar, he is certainly well ahead of the remaining contenders. Powar's fitness goes against him, but then again he has always been heavy, and as Dravid pointed out, is neither as slow across the ground or unfit as his bulk makes him out to be. He has bowled with tremendous skill and guile, changing pace and loop at will, and his fighting half-century in extreme heat in Jamshedpur has gone a long way in putting him the scheme of things.
End as you begin
While every member of both teams will deny that the lead-up to the sixth game was any less intense, a drop in focus is inevitable when there is so little at stake. It's not quite the same with the last match, though. For England it is the end of long, gruelling tour and in India, the public only seems to remember the last two matches played, so the team could cop some criticism for losing two on the trot despite having sealed the series long ago. In that sense, and with Dravid returning to the helm, the Indians will be pushing hard to end on a high note.
Will he? Won't he?
Inevitably the lead-up to a match is full of speculation on who will play and who will not. Dravid has kept his cards close to his chest ever since taking over as captain and today, the final ODI was no different. Speculation is rife on whether Virender Sehwag and/or Mohammad Kaif will rest. Sehwag hinted that he would not be averse to the idea, and with two back-to-back ODIs against Pakistan scheduled for April 18 and 19, the team may well decide to bench one or both and give Robin Uthappa a much-awaited debut. One person likely to play, though is Dinesh Karthik, who has been summoned up specially for this game to give Dhoni a break. If he does not make the cut then India will have to hand either Dravid or Uthappa, who kept wickets a few years back before giving it up to concentrate on his batting, the big gloves, and both options seem unlikely.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo