On Saturday, Vizag will host an ODI match after two years. The crowd will be expecting a thrilling encounter at ACA-VDCA Stadium as both teams look to accomplish different objectives and end the tour on a high. While the visitors seek to script history by recording a series-clinching win, the hosts aim to assert that despite being in a transitional phase, they are still a dominant force in 50-over cricket.
Kane Williamson's team are a victory away from achieving a feat which no other New Zealand team has completed yet – win a bilateral series in the sub-continent. On the other hand, India would be determined to address their poor run in ODI series – barring a couple of Zimbabwe tours, MS Dhoni and co haven’t tasted success in any bilateral series since November 2014.
Amidst all the action, cyclone ‘Kyant’ threatens to play a spoilsport at Vizag. However, match organisers have ruled out the possibility of rains hampering the fifth ODI. Head of the organizing committee and chairman of the Visakhapatnam Port Trust, MT Krishna Babu also guaranteed that all precautionary measures have been taken. Even if it rains, ACA-VDCA Stadium has the latest equipment to ensure the smooth functioning of this important fixture.
Looking at the past encounters at Vizag, India have a record of winning four ODIs to just one loss in the port city. Past records also suggest that it’s a chasing ground; the teams that have fielded first have gone to win four times, which may indicate that both teams would want to field first if they win the toss.
Both the matches which the hosts have lost in the ongoing series saw Virat Kohli fall early. It’s a known fact that India depend heavily on their vice-captain in chases. However, the over-reliance on the Delhi batsman has increased all the more because of Rohit Sharma’s failure at the top. With scores of 14, 15, 13, 11 in the series so far, the Mumbai batsman has failed to carry his good form in the longest format of the game to ODI cricket.
Rohit’s lack of success is partly due to the fact that he’s had to change his role moderately in the absence of his usual partner Shikhar Dhawan, who’s missing the tour due to an injury. It is Dhawan who generally takes the attack to the opposition while Rohit rotates the strike and keeps the scoreboard ticking till he’s set. But now that Ajinkya Rahane, a batsman who takes time to up the ante, is opening, the responsibility of taking risks in the power play is on Rohit. In turn, the Mumbai batsman has lost all his wickets in the series while going for big shots, barring one in the fourth ODI, where he was the victim of a peach of delivery by Tim Southee. But with Rahane scoring a half century at Ranchi — that too at a brisk rate — both the opening batsmen should swap roles in the decider to try and give a stable start at the top. Rohit should play second fiddle to Rahane, and focus on his natural game, while the latter should try to keep the run rate in check. A good opening stand would put less pressure on Kohli and Dhoni when they come at the centre to bat.
The middle order is facing scrutiny for losing matches from positions where they would have fancied their chances to win. At Delhi, Hardik Pandya led India’s chase after Dhoni fell to a sensational return catch by Southee. The match was evenly poised until a mistimed shot on the last ball of the penultimate over cost Dhoni and the team the match.
In the fourth ODI, Axar Patel played a resurgent knock of 38 as wickets tumbled at the other end. The match seemed relatively in India’s control. However, he lost his wicket at the wrong time to an attempted yorker by Trent Boult (maybe the run-out of Amit Mishra was on his mind) and Dhawal Kulkarni’s explosive innings of 25 was too late to change India's fortunes.
While Axar and Pandya have had some success with the bat, Kedar Jadhav has only performed well while bowling and not while batting expect the 41 at Delhi in 2nd ODI. Manish Pandey, who’s looked dangerous in patches, has lacked composure and lost his wicket at crunch moments. Pandey’s situation somewhat encapsulates the issue India are facing down the order — the hosts are missing the calm a team needs while chasing. Understandably so, as Pandey, Jadhav, Axar and Pandya are new to the job of finishing and they will take time to develop the quality of mixing caution with aggression. The Indian captain is aware of this fact and has declared that he will not curb the youngsters by asking them to not play shots.
Addressing this problem of not being able to finish games, Jadhav said at a press conference ahead of the fifth ODI, "Obviously, the opportunity has been missed, especially in the last game. But it's still early stages for Manish (Pandey) and me. We need to grab whatever opportunity is thrown at us."
"We need to learn quickly from the opportunities we have missed. That's what international cricket is all about -- delivering when it matters most to the team," admitted Jadhav.
Following this match, India will not play any further ODIs in this year. Dhoni and co will play only three matches against England in January 2017 before the Champions Trophy. In such a situation, the Vizag ODI is the best chance for the lower middle order to prove their value to the team.
In the bowling department, Jasprit Bumrah — who missed the fourth ODI due to illness — is expected to return in place of Kulkarni, who leaked 59 runs with just one wicket in his spell of seven overs at Ranchi. The spinners brought the hosts back in the last match, after the initial onslaught by Martin Guptill and Tom Latham. Amit Mishra, the most experienced bowler in the unit, has led from the front and has 10 dismissals against his name so far in the series. Jadhav, on the other hand, is proving to be more than handy for Dhoni. He’s not only chipping in with some overs (he bowled eight overs in the Ranchi ODI), he also took vital wickets. India will hope that his rather surprising, but pleasing, performance with the ball continues. Axar, with slow left-arm bowling, is doing an excellent job by not allowing easy runs and maintaining pressure.
The visitors have done well to keep the series alive despite all odds being stacked against them. The Test series whitewash followed by a substandard performance at Dharamsala must have lowered their morale. By the end of the first ODI, the shoulders had dropped, the enthusiasm was lacking. But skipper Williamson’s wonderful century in the second ODI, aptly supported by Southee’s bowling performance, brightened the atmosphere in the away team’s camp and ensured that the limited overs series won’t be a repeat of the drubbing they underwent in white clothes.
The Delhi ODI must have made the Black Caps believe that they have enough ammunition in them to win in sub-continent. The win in Ranchi, led by Martin Guptill and Southee, must have boosted their optimism and provided them with the confidence of clinching a victory in the decider.
Southee, who’s oozing with self-esteem thanks to his magnificent bowling efforts, conveyed the same. "I think the guys are pretty excited to do what no other New Zealand side has ever done before – come over here (India) and win a one-day series. The excitement in the group is very high," he said.
But for such a result, New Zealand will have to improve their performance with the bat. Tom Latham, whose performance has perhaps been the most positive takeaway for the Black Caps from the tour, has been giving the starts they would ideally expect at the top. Guptill’s 72 at Ranchi is also a good sign for the Kiwis. But the middle order, headed by Ross Taylor, has not been able to capitalise on those starts. At the end of the first power play at Ranchi, the Kiwis were cruising at 80/0, and one expected them to reach at least 300 at the end of 50 overs. But they could manage only 260.
Taylor scored a 58-ball 35 in the fourth ODI, but before he could accelerate, he fell prey to an outstanding run-out by Dhoni. Jimmy Neesham and BJ Watling, who played his first ODI of the series replacing Luke Ronchi, only managed scores of 6 and 14. If Kiwis want to seal the series, the likes of Taylor, Watling, Neesham will have to contribute and rotate the strike freely against spinners — something they have failed to do so far in the series.
New Zealand's bowling department would want to continue their good run — Southee has been the leader of the bowling unit and Boult’s contribution at the death has been tremendous. Mitchell Santner has so far been the unacknowledged performer. He has picked up only two wickets in the series, but his economical spells at both the venues where Kiwis emerged victorious have been noteworthy.
However, the wicket of Kohli is what they would dearly want. Getting Kohli early would break the backbone of the Indian batting line-up. To add to their worries, the Indian vice-captain averages a whopping 111.33 at Vizag. He has played three matches at the ACA-VDCA Stadium, where he has managed to hit two tons and was out on 99 on the third occasion.
The series is set for an exciting finish with the final decider on Saturday. India go into the fifth ODI as clear favourites. However, what makes the Vizag ODI even more interesting is that the last time India were in a similar situation, they suffered a 214-run defeat against South Africa in 2015, something which will be afresh in their minds.