India looks to set history, England to save face

Published: Saturday, April 8, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Guwahati:Having clinched the ODI series, history beckons Dravid's devils as they take on England, playing to salvage a semblance of respectability, in the fifth ODI at the idyllic Nehru Stadium here tomorrow.

The series will be remembered not only for the spectacular breaking to pieces of the Ashes' winners, but also for the number of milestones the hosts have set on their path to glory.

The men in blue have already eclipsed Clive Lloyd'e West Indies' vaunted record of chasing 14 matches to victory on a trot, when they roasted the English team in Kochi. In the same match, they also equalled the Indian record of winning eight consecutive games, a record set during 1985 when India won the Benson and Hedges Cup and the four Nation Sharjah Tournament under the stewardship of Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev respectively.

Now is the time to attain new highs and dream bigger. A win at Guwahati means another milestone pocketed and a step closer to making a clean sweep of a full ODI series that the Indian team has unable to do ever since they cut their teeth into the shorter version of the game in 1974. The unpredictability of the ODI is a bigger odd in case of this series than the England side that has been done and dusted with.

Virender Sehwag will lead India in the next two One-day internationals after the selectors decided to rest Rahul Dravid.

Following the series-clinching four-wicket win at Kochi, the skipper has been given a break. V R V Singh comes into the squad in place of Dravid.

The decision is a vote of confidence for Sehwag, who is suffering a poor run of form. He has made just 74 runs in the series and has been troubled by England's impressive use of the short ball.

Sehwag has captained twice -- against Bangladesh in 2003 and Sri Lanka last year -- in the ODIs, and won both matches. So India will be hoping another win from the stand-in skipper. He has consistently threatened to score but failed to put a big knock on the board.

But now with the series bagged, he can relax and get back into form. In a country where you're only as good as your last game, the question is just how long a rope will he be given. So far that rope has extended to 37 innings and a year without a century. Hopefully, captaincy changes that. Mohammed Kaifs position is trickier. Although he made a vital 91 in the first Test against England at Nagpur, he was dropped for the second Test. Fortunately Kaif adds tremendous value to the team on the field holding his own at cover.

It is a critical position. But that said dismal scores of 8, 5 not out, 0, 0, 4, 0, 0, 5, in his last eight knocks are anything but great stats. If he remembers his basics, Kaif will use the latitude of the 4-0 lead to get his groove back.

Yuvraj is batting like a man possessed in the middle-order along with Suresh Raina who is a revelation having lifted his batting to the next level and combined it with a zing in the field. Yuvi has also blossomed as a bowler.

He is cannier than he looks and his unassuming uncomplicated style has reigned the beleaguered English batting giving the skipper an added variety. Mahendra Singh Dhoni could get the much desired rest. In that case Robin Uthappa who could make a debut here would have to double up as a keeper.

The last chance of an English fightback to keep the series alive melted into the Arabian Sea. The horrendous injury list that is ever rising has added to its woes. Geraint Jones is the latest casualty after injuring a hamstring muscle while batting at Kochi. In all probability Matt Prior will be keeping stumps this time around, with Oawis Shah making his comeback into the playing eleven.

Ever since England managed the fantastic series leveller at Mumbai nothing has gone right for captain Andrew Flintoff. His own batting has crumbled under pressure. Andrew Strauss has shown glimpses of what he is capable of with the fast ball, but he has come a cropper before the guile of Harbhajan Singh and wily Ramesh Powar.

In the middle-order Kevin Pieterson and Paul Collingwood have shown some temperament and dexterity, but that has not been enough with the other players simply too baffled by this Indian attack. And when things don't fall in place discontent brews. Matthew Hoggard, who had the richest haul in the Test series, minced no words when he said his rhythm was affected after being made to sit the first three ODIs after the fabulous performance in the Tests. He was also all praise for the Indian squad calling it the best in the world now for its clinical demolition of the opposition.

As for the weather, it has been merciless to the English men too.

Guwahati will be a relief for the visitors with a reasonably comfortable temperature.

The Nehru Stadium itself is a beauty to watch ensconced amid hills on either side. India have a 3-3 record at this stadium in the nine matches that have been played here since it was established in 1962.

The stadium experiences heavy early morning fog and the light that fades early in the evenings, both of which shorten the day's play considerably.

However, any cloud of doubt over the holding of the match evaporated today with a sparkling sunshine showing signs of the weather improving after four days' intermittent rains and hailstorms that had cast a dampner on the match prospects.

Ticket sales have hardly picked up with only 7000 tickets being sold of the capacity of 17,800. The district associations, which have purchased the tickets have also not been able to sell it as lower Assam goes to polls the very next day after the match. Some of the major districts like Nalbari, Rangiya, Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Kokrajhar, Dhubri and Sonitpur goes to polls on April 10. But with the sun shinning it is bound to have an effect on the tickets.

BCCI curator Prabir Mukherjee, who flew into the city today, told UNI, ''The pitch looks good. It will have little dampness early on,'' he said. But the square was under heavy wraps and it is obvious it will sweat during the next one day and the side batting first will have their job cut out.

The England and Wales Cricket Board had initially shown their reluctance to come and play in Guwahati. But a recce team that visited the stadium here last afternoon had expressed their satisfaction at the arrangements provided. Mr Bikash Barua, Secretary Assam Cricket Association, told UNI.

According to Deputy Commissioner (Metro) Avinash Joshi, a number of steps had been taken to avert any untoward incident before or on the day of the match. Altogether 2000 security personnel would be deployed in and around the ground. This would include para-military forces.

Official sources said every possible step has been taken to assure that the game goes on smoothly.


India: Virender Sehwag (Capt), Robin Uthappa, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Ramesh Powar, Shantakumaran Sreesanth, Ajit Agarkar, RP Singh, Venugopala Rao, Munaf Patel, Vikram Rajvir Singh.

England: Andrew Flintoff (Captain), Kabir Ali, James Anderson, Gareth Batty, Ian Bell, IAN Blackwell, Paul Collingwood, Matthew Hoggard, Geraint Jones, Sajid Mahmood, Kevin Pieterson, Liam Plunkett, Matt Prior, Owais Shah, Vikram Solanki, Andrew Strauss.

Umpires: V Jaiprakash, I Shivram, Rudy Koertzen.

Match referee: Roshan Mohanama.

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