India look to deliver final punch

India look to deliver final punch

Feroz Shah Kotla pitch could provide assistance to bowlers as Men in Blue take on Sri Lanka

India look to deliver final punch

Indian cricketer Gautam Gambhir (front) is watched by teammates as he prepares to catch a ball during practice ahead of the fifth and final ODI cricket match against Sri Lanka in New Delhi on Saturday. AFP

However, given the recent history of the track at Ferozeshah Kotla, the venue for the inconsequential fifth one-dayer on Monday, a different scenario might be in store. Well, at least the bowlers will be hoping so!

A total in excess of 400 was almost chased down in the opening match while in the subsequent match Sri Lanka leveled the series scaling down over 300 runs. The Cuttack game appeared to be heading in the same direction before Sri Lanka, going strong at 175/2 from 22 overs, lost their way. Kolkata saw the familiar pattern restored when India made short work of Lanka’s 315.

A lot of work has gone into the preparation of the wicket for this match. The newly-laid square here had come in for some harsh criticism for its almost non-existent bounce during the inaugural Champions League. Even the India-Australia match here in early November saw the hosts struggle before successfully chasing the visitors’ modest total. Not a single match has been played since then at this ground as the Delhi and District Cricket Association decided to rework on the wicket whose top layer has been refurbished.

How the wicket will behave only time will tell but, as Virender Sehwag pointed out after the Kolkata match, it would have been too risky to leave the series alive till the Delhi game. “We know anything can happen in Delhi, so we wanted to win the series here (Kolkata) only,” Sehwag had remarked. The 9.00 am start also adds to the intrigue. It wasn’t long ago that India played their sixth game against Australia at Guwahati under similar conditions and came a cropper.

The series was still alive in Guwahati, but here it’s a dead rubber which means India can play without much pressure. Skipper MS Dhoni will return to the side after serving the two-match ban, but his comeback will not alter the team composition much though. Dinesh Kaarthick, who did a decent job in the two matches both behind and in front of the wickets, may still get to play in Delhi if the team management decides to rest Sachin Tendulkar, who came to the venue but skipped Saturday’s practice. Zaheer Khan has been bowling non-stop since his return to the squad after recuperating from shoulder injury and it would be advisable to rest the paceman and test one of the other three seamers -- S Sreesanth, Ashok Dinda and Sudeep Tyagi.

The visitors, plagued by injuries, don’t have that luxury. It’s never easy to overcome the loss of four of your frontline bowlers in the midst of a series and Lankan replacements have been impressive without being able to dent India’s might. The ineffectiveness of the likes of Ajantha Mendis and Lasith Malinga has rendered them even more toothless on belter of wickets. Also, unlike India, Lankan middle-order hasn’t been able to rise to the occasion, Mahela Jayawardene’s lean patch only adding to their bundle of woes. The saving grace, however, has been the performance of the top-three batsmen. Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul Tharanga and Sangakkara have scored in heap keeping the Lankan batting afloat. The 3-1 score line, however, doesn’t really convey the keen contest between the sides through the series.

The visitors have been able to keep India on their toes despite the obvious weaknesses. Defeated, but not certainly disgraced, Lanka will be looking at Sunday’s match as an opportunity to restore some lost pride.

Teams (from): India: Virender Sehwag (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Dinesh Kaarthick, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, S Sreeanth, Ashok Dinda, Ashish Nehra, Pragyan Ojha, Sudeep Tyagi.

Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakkara (capt), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul Taranga, Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera, Thilina Kandamby, Thissara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Ajantha Mendis, Chamara Kapugedera, Chanaka Welegedara, Muthumudalige Pushpakumara, Suranga Lakmal, Suraj Randiv.