The war is over, but the battle is still on. Having gobbled up the series without allowing England much leeway, India still have some things to play for. While a whitewash over the visitors would be a big motivating factor for the hosts going into the fifth ODI at the Barabati Stadium, for the visitors it would be a Herculean task to stave off such a disaster.
Former India coach Greg Chappell had talked about a series within a series when India had comfortably wrapped up against Sri Lanka a couple of years back. Well, both teams could look into these remaining matches as another three-match series and that might help to keep the intensity going.
Another thing that adds to the significance of the matches from India’s point of view is that it provides an opportunity for players on the bench to get a look-in. Players like Virat Kohli, who last played in the series win against Sri Lanka, has been out of the team after Virender Sehwag made a comeback. Irfan Pathan, who was included in the squad for the fourth and fifth ODIs, too, might get a chance in the playing XI before the selectors meet to announce the squad for the last two matches. Local lad Pragyan Ojha has been with the squad, but with Mahendra Singh Dhoni opting for a combination of three seamers and one regular spinner in Harbhajan Singh, he is yet to get a chance.
With such choices available, the think tank could afford to rest some of the seniors who have been playing relentless cricket. “Just because they were part of the squad they were not playing in the domestic matches. Here, too, they were not in the playing XI. So the bench players end up only batting at the nets against a second-string attack. Having won the series, it provides us with an opportunity to give them valuable exposure. There would be just one or two changes in the team because we would still want to field our best team and keep the momentum going,” Dhoni said after a brief workout on Tuesday. Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, Harbhajan, Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, skipped the optional practice but chose to workout at the hotel gym in Bhubaneshwar.
If a couple of in-form players are rested, it would mean that Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma get to shoulder more responsibility in the middle order. Raina has not got an opportunity to bat in all the matches and young Rohit had to make way for Sachin Tendulkar in Bangalore.
For England, who chose to stay back at the hotel and regroup, it’s still about a win under their belts, something that skipper Kevin Pietersen has been saying throughout the series.
“It is not that we would forget a shot if we didn’t practice one day. International cricket is all about the mind. So, it was a welcome break in the routine we had followed throughout the series. Sometimes these things help you regroup,” Owais Shah, who shone with the bat in Bangalore, said.
“Personally, I would like to play a big innings like Yuvraj. That would also help me get into the reckoning for the Test side,” Shah added.