India eye lead in Dhoni's homeland

Hosts have edge over England in Ranchi’s maiden ODI after their massive win in Kochi.

DRUMMINGIT UP: Indian skipperMS Dhoni showcases his percussion skills during the inauguration of newcricket stadium at Ranchi on Friday. PTI

There was a certain amount of expectancy that Mahendra Singh Dhoni would address the pre-match press conference, what with this match being the maiden international match at his home venue.

Instead, the skipper deputed last-match hero Ravindra Jadeja to do the job. But the scribes covering the third match here were more anxious to find out the status of the Indian skipper after he was hit on his right thumb by bowling coach Joe Dawes’ snorter during Friday’s ‘nets’. Dhoni walked off the field immediately, but it turned out to be a minor scare and he didn’t even need a scan to know the extent of the damage.

Given that this was his first opportunity to play an international game in front of his home crowd, Dhoni would have made all the effort to turn up on Saturday noon. More so because the five-match series is poised delicately with India and England having shared the first two matches.

Both India and England know how crucial Dhoni is to Indian team’s fortunes. Both teams understand the importance of clinching this tie as it will leave the victorious side needing just one win from the next two games to claim the series.

On form Dhoni is India’s most prolific batsman by some distance, having accumulated over 300 runs in the last five ODIs, and in making impact he is their best. With their backs to the wall following the loss in the opening match, India needed certain things to fall in place.

The first hint of it came when Ravindra Jadeja lived up to the tag of all-rounder with a bruising half-century and a two-wicket effort. The new-ball bowlers, especially, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, provided the ideal start while spinners competently exploited the turning conditions.

India would have loved to maintain the same template for the rest of the series but the lack of familiarity of the conditions at this newest venue might force the hosts to change their tried and trusted win-toss-and-bat-first policy. Jadeja made it clear in as many words when he said bowling first on this virgin surface would be the ideal strategy to adopt.

While the emphatic 127-run win did provide some breathing space to the battered Indian side, some concerns remained unresolved and probably will remain unaddressed. Gautam Gambhir’s form at the top of the order continues to be a big worry while Virat Kohli, who was also hit on his hand by Ishant Sharma during practice, isn’t making it any easier for himself.

The right-hander, on a mini-slump, appeared to set things straight in Kochi but threw it all away in a moment of indiscretion. Though the quicker bowlers by and large were impressive in Kochi, Ishant was profligate once again. Consistency, or the lack of it, should be a cause for concern for the Delhi seamer.

England’s bowling, too, came in for severe punishment at the death that wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by the team management. Having done a brilliant job of restricting the Indians to mere 21 runs in the batting Power Play with an assortment of slower ones, yorkers and widish yorkers, England lost it all in the final few overs as Dhoni and Jadeja went hammer and tongs. The bowlers’ profligacy was followed by English batsmen’s age-old problems with the turning ball.

There is, of course, a different look to this English one-day side than the one they fielded in the Test series but at the first hint of a turn, the visiting middle-order cracked under pressure. Skipper Alastair Cook will be mindful of that. Like most teams, England too thrive on the good start and that responsibility lies with Cook who has formed a potent combination at the top with Ian Bell.

Their cheap dismissals in the second ODI set the rot in and Kevin Pietersen’s cameo proved to be too little to alter the course of the game.

England will be smarting under the defeat but India will be determined not to let the visitors spoil Dhoni’s bash in his own backyard.

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