Sydney: Battered and bruised after four successive hammerings, India will make a last-gasp effort to avoid the embarrassment of being whitewashed by an unrelenting Australia when the two sides clash in the fifth and final cricket one-dayer in Sydney on Saturday.
The Indians came a cropper while defending three back-to-back 300-plus totals and in the fourth match in Canberra, they bungled inexplicably from a position of strength to fail in chasing as well.
And it would take a special resolve to recover from the demoralising debacles to manage at least one positive result before the three-match Twenty20 series starting January 26 in Adelaide.
This is the first bilateral one-day series between the two sides on Australian soil, and the Men in Blue will want to avoid entering the record books in an embarrassing fashion.
While the visitors are searching for answers after the poor show, the hosts took the day off today after travelling here via road, their dressing room relaxed for this 50-over finale.
The Indians could not have a practice session today because of wet conditions and there is a possibility of weather playing spoilsport with the forecast of more showers tomorrow.
Australia's only concern is regarding Glenn Maxwell, who went off the field in Canberra owing to a blow to his right knee. But as seen previously in the series, they have ample names to fill in any voids in their playing eleven.
With Nathan Lyon covering the spin angle now, Scott Boland could come in as an extra pace option, or even Shaun Marsh, should they feel the need to provide more batting cover, in case Maxwell doesn't play at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
For India, the concerns are more realistic, simply because they do not have the luxurious cushion of a series lead.
The very purpose of the current international schedule is to get into a limited-overs' set-up, particularly T20 cricket, with the World Cup on the horizon.
Thus, the ensuing T20I series assumes more significance on this tour, yet the visitors will not want to entirely waste the first leg of this trip.
Ajinkya Rahane could be a doubtful starter for this game, owing to the stitches on his right hand. He did bat in the run-chase at Canberra, but only because the Indian lower order was in free-fall.
Since he is a vital member of the T20 line-up, the team management will want him to regain full fitness ahead of next week's clashes than risk further injury in a dead-rubber.
Manish Pandey is expected to be slotted into the middle order, perhaps even bat at number four should the situation arise, as India will want optimal cover in their line-up for Rahane's absence.
There is also a case for R Ashwin to return in place of Gurkeerat Mann who hasn't impressed with either bat or ball in his two outings so far.
Ashwin, who sat out in both Melbourne and Canberra, holds the key to the bowling attack in the T20 format. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni will want to give him some match practice ahead of the upcoming series, even if it doesn't help sort out India's regular problems regarding team balance.
However, if there is one ground that the skipper will get away with fielding two spinners Down Under, then it is the SCG, irrespective of rain forecast for Saturday.
Barinder Sran is the other bowler who was afforded rest in the previous game. It will be interesting to see if he returns to the playing eleven, in light of Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar playing key roles in leaking 348 runs at the Manuka Oval.
Both Ishant and Umesh have played a majority of the matches in this series, and with high workload a factor, the team management might want to afford atleast one of them some rest.
Wet conditions didn't allow the Indian team to practice today, and it was a welcome break for the team after constant travel along with playing four ODIs in 10 days across this continent.
It remains to be seen if some time away from the field will allow renewed vigour in the visitors' camp for a final spirited push to avoid a series white-wash.
Particularly for Dhoni, after he blamed his cheap dismissal as the reason for the 349-chase to fall apart. He has been appointed captain until the end of the World T20, but with the lead-up to that tournament filled up with T20s against Sri Lanka (at home) and the Asia Cup (T20 format in Bangladesh), India do not play any more ODIs until after the IPL season.
The last three ODI series under Dhoni's leadership haven't gone as per plan. Given the T20 schedule for the next two months, could this be his final match as ODI skipper then?
And with a swirl of rumours about his retirement, could this also be the final ODI for the 2011 World Cup winning Indian captain? That, only time will tell.
Australia: Steve Smith (c), Aaron Finch, David Warner, George Bailey, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, Matthew Wade (wk), James Faulkner, John Hastings, Scott Boland, Kane Richardson, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh.
India: MS Dhoni (c & wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Gurkeerat Mann, Rishi Dhawan, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Barinder Sran.
Match starts at: 8.50am (IST).
Published Date: Jan 22, 2016 20:57 PM | Updated Date: Jan 22, 2016 20:57 PM