Dhoni & Co look to prove a point in India-NZ series decider

With the series locked at 2-2, India will take on New Zealand in the fifth and final ODI in Visakhapatnam on Saturday.

Dhoni Kumble fifth ODI Visakhapatnam

Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and coach Anil Kumble at a training session in Visakhapatnam on Friday.   -  K. R. Deepak

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s romance with the 'City of Destiny’ is an acknowledged fact. He would be hoping for a series-winning performance from his team in the decider of the five-match series to silence his critics at one of his favourite venues, the ACA-VDCA Dr. Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy Stadium, on Saturday.

It did not rain for most of the day on Friday and the ground-staff were busy preparing what was said to be a good one-day wicket, but rain threat persists.

The two losses India suffered in the series so far — in Delhi and Ranchi — were a grim reminder that the young guns are yet to master the art of taking the team beyond the finish line under pressure.

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But Dhoni would rather be hoping for the top-order to get the job done on its own this time.

It will be interesting to see whether Dhoni will bat at No. 4 again, especially after an unfamiliar experience of consuming 23 dot balls in the 31 he faced while scoring just 11 in a lost cause in the fourth ODI in his hometown Ranchi.

That performance has further emboldened the critics who have been harping on the theory that his famed skills of finishing the contest have deserted him. This, despite Dhoni’s flamboyant 80 in the Mohali One-Dayer and his match-winning century partnership with century-maker Virat Kohli in the third game.

But what should be a major concern for the Indian team is the poor run of opener Rohit Sharma, who has scores 14, 15, 13 and 11 in the series so far. He may have gotten out to unplayable balls or to stunning catches but Rohit has only himself to blame if he fails again.

Manish Pandey and Hardik Pandya should soon start justifying their talent by scoring runs and building partnerships under pressure to complete the job on hand.

In bowling, it will be interesting to see whether the fit-again Jaspreet Bumrah, who made way for Dhawal Kulkarni in the last game, will be back in the playing XI to share the new ball with Umesh Yadav.

The spin trio of left-armer Axar Patel, leggie Amit Mishra and off-spinner Kedar Jadhav is expected to back the pacers with accuracy and regular wickets in the crucial middle overs.

On the other hand, New Zealand is clearly upbeat after levelling the series in Ranchi.

But any fresh game at this level is a totally different ball game. The playing conditions and the challenges will be different.

The Kiwis may be worried over the indifferent form of its most experienced batsman Ross Taylor. However, the return to form of the explosive opener, Martin Guptill, Man of the Match in the fourth ODI, would ease the pressure on the batsmen.

That the Kiwis won the last game despite dropping one-day specialists Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi is not a good sign for the home team.

In bowling, the Kiwi pace attack is spearheaded by Tim Southee, who is still a menace with the new ball. With left-armer Trent Boult and James Neesham backing him, the attack has the striking prowess to rattle the best. The pacers, along with the spin trio of left-armers Mitchell Santner, Anton Devcich and leggie Ish Sodhi, give the Kiwis the edge.

The teams (from): India: M. S. Dhoni (capt & wk), Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Amit Mishra, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Jayant Yadav, Dhawal Kulkarni and Mandeep Singh.

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Ross Taylor, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi, James Neesham, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Ish Sodhi, Trent Boult, Matt Henry, Anton Devcich, B.J. Watling and Doug Bracewell.

Match starts at 1.30 p.m.