India look to break dead-rubber jinx
Sunday, December 27
Start time 09:00 (03:30 GMT)
It's dead-rubber time again. Since MS Dhoni became captain, India have won seven of the eight bilateral ODI series they have played. Keeping aside the series against England, Australia and West Indies - where last matches could not be played out - India have played four dead-rubbers and lost all four. With Dhoni coming back from his ban, India would want to set that blip right in Delhi.
The visitors, though, will be playing for much more. They came here with the strongest Sri Lankan squad to have toured India. The final balance sheet will give them reasons aplenty to feel bitterly disappointed: they are yet to win a Test in the country, or an ODI series. What the balance sheet won't show is how well they managed despite a plethora of injuries to key players and how they could easily have been 2-0 up despite having to chase 415 and 302 in the first two matches. Having lost Muttiah Muralitharan, Angelo Mathews, Thilan Thushara and Chanaka Welegedara to injuries, this was not as bad an effort as the scoreline would suggest.
After the fourth ODI, Sangakkara said this was the most competitive they had ever been in India, and yet they came up short. Sangakkara will want to leave with good memories, a final stamp of competitiveness in Delhi, a good performance and not a whimper to remember the tour by.
Form guide(last five completed matches, most recent first)
India - WWLWL
Sri Lanka - LLWLL
Watch out for...
Upul Tharanga: With big-hitters all around him, and a bold decision that put him in Sanath Jayasuriya's spot at the top of the order, Tharanga would have been under pressure coming into the series. If he was, he is yet to show it. With 295 runs at 73.75, he is behind only Tillakaratne Dilshan in terms of run-scoring. A definite contender for the Man-of-the-Series award if he can put in another strong show.
Sachin Tendulkar: What Tharanga has been to Dilshan, Tendulkar has been to Virender Sehwag. For a second fiddle, 216 runs at 72 is not a bad job. Having rested for the tri-series in Bangladesh, Tendulkar will want to make the most of his last ODI innings in a while.
Dhoni was named in the squad for the final ODI, which should mean India have no intentions of resting him. His coming back should be the only change in the batting line-up, because India don't have any reserve batsmen. Harbhajan Singh could be rested, though, and this would be the best opportunity to give Sudeep Tyagi a debut.
India: (probable) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Pragyan Ojha, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Sudeep Tyagi, 11 Ashish Nehra.
Their opening problem solved, Sri Lanka are left looking for one more middle-order mainstay to go with Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. Chamara Kapugedera, Thilan Samaraweera and Jayasuriya have all disappointed there, and that will be the only major decision to make. Thissara Perera and Suranga Lakmal should retain their places, while Lasith Malinga will be under pressure to hold his.
Sri Lanka: (probable) 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (capt/wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 and 6 two out of Sanath Jayasuriya, Chamara Kapugedera and Thilan Samaraweera, 7 Thilina Kandamby, 8 Thissara Perera, 9 Suraj Randiv, 10 Lasith Malinga/Ajantha Mendis, 11 Suranga Lakmal.
Pitch and conditions
"We wanted to win the game and finish the series off in Kolkata as I am not sure of the wicket in Delhi," Sehwag said after the fourth ODI. That's how the Kotla track has been this year: low and slow throughout the Champions League, and if it was slightly truer in the Australia ODI, the dew later in the night reminded Ricky Ponting of the wettest conditions he had ever played in. While the early start should take care of the dew, it will bring with it a chilly, foggy start. The pitch remains an unknown, and could tempt teams to play two spinners. Vijay Bahadur Mishra, the curator, predicts scores of around 250, which is an improvement on the Champions League matches, and the one against Australia.
Stats and trivia
- Between them, Dilshan and Sehwag have scored 537 runs so far, off 418 deliveries. Fancy their opening together?
- Harbhajan Singh and Suraj Randiv have managed the improbable in the series: they have gone for just 5.07 and 5.03 an over respectively. Welegedera (5.59) and Ravindra Jadeja (5.47) are the two other main bowlers to have gone for less than six.
- In 59 innings since June 10, 2007, Mahela Jayawardene has scored one century, that while opening the innings. Over that period his average is 25.1 and strike-rate 75.83, as opposed to 32.02 and 76.86 overall.
- India have played two ODIs against Sri Lanka at the Kotla, and split the spoils. The second of those matches, during the 1996 World Cup, featured a vicious assault from Jayasuriya which signalled the end of Manoj Prabhakar's career.
"We had so many debutants on our tour and some of them have really stepped up and that promises better things on future tours. This is the most competitive we have been in India since I debuted."
Kumar Sangakkara gathers the positives from the tour.
"It's very important that youngsters like Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja get going and play 18-19 matches ahead of the World Cup in 2011. If we get the full strength side we can win the World Cup."
The future is bright if seen through Virender Sehwag's eyes.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo