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Final ODI of a series dominated by India

S. Dinakar

Host's last ODI in the sub-continent before World Cup

— Photo: K. Pichumani

BUSINESS WITH PLEASURE:Virat Kohli, Saurabh Tiwary and Praveen Kumar at a practice session in Chennai on Thursday.

Chennai: From a cricketing perspective, the new structures at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium add a fresh dimension to cricket here. The gaps between the different stands vary from 25 to 40 feet which means the breeze from the nearby Bay of Bengal could impact the game significantly.

Indeed, there could be greater swing for the pacemen, while the spinners might achieve late drift.

The fifth ODI of the series dominated by the host — India leads 4-0 over New Zealand — will get under way here on Friday on a surface made largely of red soil with only a thin layer of clay. There could be a measure of bounce for the pacemen and turn for the spinners in the second half of the game.

Showers forecast

Occasional showers have been forecast for Friday — it rained briefly here on Thursday — and there could be some moisture on the surface due to ‘sweating.' Chasing would be a better option.

The dead-rubber game is not without significance. This will be India's last ODI in the sub-continent ahead of the World Cup. The selectors will be looking at the ‘big picture'.

Finally, the pieces of the jigsaw are falling in place. For all practical purposes, Yusuf Pathan and Virat Kohli have booked their places in India's 15-member squad for the World Cup. Before the ongoing series, at least one of these two slots was up for grabs.

Yuvraj Singh has still not discovered his best batting form though there was enough promise in his innings of 42 at Guwahati to reflect his importance to the side.

Match-winners come rare and need to be given more leeway. In the knockout stages of the World Cup, where natural ability, experience and nerves will be huge factors, the left-hander can swing games.

Add to all this his steady left-arm spin — Yuvraj has sent down 22 overs in the ongoing series to scalp three at a creditable economy rate of 5.09 on run-filled tracks — and he brings considerable value to the side. Yuvraj is almost certain to hold his place for the World Cup.

And R. Ashwin appears to have nailed the spot of the second specialist spinner. There is little harm in picking two specialist offies if they happen to be the two best spinners in the land. Ashwin is the leading wicket-taker in the series so far with eight at 5.56 runs an over. He has held his own in difficult periods, in the batting power plays and at the death.

This said, Ashwin needs to evolve and progress to the next level. Otherwise, the batsmen of the world will sort him out. The fact that the off-spinner delivers from an extremely open-chested action makes it that much easier for the batsmen to pick him.

His carrom ball is getting increasingly easier to read. Ashwin needs to pivot and bring his left shoulder into play to mask his deliveries better.

Best pace pack

In terms of sheer quality, Zaheer Khan, S. Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma and Munaf Patel form India's best pace pack.

However, given his ability to bowl in the end overs — notwithstanding the pounding in Bangalore — Ashish Nehra could pip Munaf.

A swing bowler with a bag of tricks, Praveen Kumar might stretch Ishant. An aggressive out-swing bowler such as Sreesanth, if rightly handled, is an asset in any form of the game.

The 15th man in the squad could be an additional batsman in Rohit Sharma or Sourabh Tiwary. But then, a leg-spinner would be a more attacking option.

Either Piyush Chawla or Amit Mishra could bring greater variety and bench strength.

Little has gone right for New Zealand; the side has now lost nine successive ODIs. The one positive for the Kiwis amidst the wreckage has been the rediscovery of James Franklin as a big-hitting batsman down the order.

Normally, an efficient ODI outfit, the Kiwis have lacked belief in the series. Apart from the game in Bangalore, the side has played with a defensive mind-set and suffered the consequences. The side has, for most part, allowed itself to be hustled by India.

Rousing stroke-makers such as Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor can be influential. However, New Zealand requires these game-changers to consolidate on starts.

And the lack of firepower in its pace attack has hurt the side. How the Kiwis miss Shane Bond's speed and swing!

The teams (from):

India: G. Gambhir (capt.), P. Patel, V. Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, R. Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, S. Tiwary, R. Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, P. Kumar, Munaf Patel, A. Nehra, M. Vijay and R. Jadeja.

New Zealand: D. Vettori (capt.), B. McCullum, M. Guptill, K. Williamson, R. Taylor, S. Styris, J. Franklin, N. McCullum, T. Southee, K. Mills, A. McKay, J. How, G. Elliott and G. Hopkins.

Match starts at 2.30 p.m.

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