Jamtha pitch under the scanner in final ODI

VCA curator confident of a better surface than in the recent past; Kohli & Co. Eager to sign off with a win

Virat Kohli (centre) with Kuldeep Yadav and Ajinkya Rahane in Nagpur on Saturday.   -  Vivek Bendre

Moments after India’s last training session of the ODI series versus Australia got over, head coach Ravi Shastri joined the quartet of captain Virat Kohli, his deputy Rohit Sharma, Test vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane and on-song all-rounder Hardik Pandya on the outfield of the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Jamtha, on the outskirts of the Orange City.

They didn’t huddle to discuss the team combination for Sunday's match, the last of the five-match series. Instead, they perfected the script handed to them and followed it up with a first-take video to support the Prime Minister’s cleanliness drive.

Had India’s middle order been able to overcome a stiff target on Thursday, it would have entered the last game with a clean slate. Come Sunday, however, they would be hoping for a cleaner – truer, for that matter – Jamtha pitch than in the recent past. After all, for the last two years, the home turf of the world governing body chief Shashank Manohar has been in the headlines for producing sub-standard pitches for international matches.

If the strip for the Test match against South Africa in 2015 was termed “poor” and the VCA was reprimanded for a mediocre pitch, situation hardly improved during the World Twenty20 last year. India was bundled out for 79 on a rank turner while chasing New Zealand's 127, which prompted the ICC to SOS its pitch expert Andy Atkinson to fix the pitch for the remainder of the tournament.

No wonder then that the VCA was prompted to first bring in a curator and relay the square soon after the T20 international against England earlier this year. Praveen Hingnikar, the curator, despite being under the scanner, put up a brave front. “That is all in the past. We will reclaim our lost glory,” Hingnikar, the former Vidarbha all-rounder, told reporters on Saturday.

“The bounce will not be on the higher side but it will be consistent. It will be a good pitch as far as the spectators are concerned. It will surely have more runs compared to the recent international games played here.”

Despite Hingnikar's promise, don't be surprised if the pitch that wore a placid look ends up a slower and low-bounce pitch. While Kohli's men will not be bothered much about the nature of the pitch, Australia will be hoping to reverse the trend of batting in conditions not tailor-made for batting.

The visitors struggled to cope with the pitches in the first two games of the series – in Chennai and Kolkata – which were not exactly ideal for batsmen in white-ball cricket. However, with Steven Smith and Co. putting up a much better show in improved conditions in Indore and Bengaluru, even notching up its first win of the series two nights ago, its batsmen's approach will be interesting to see on an expected slow track.

Kohli’s men, on the other hand, will have little to worry about than getting its rotation policy right. Yuzvendra Chahal, the leggie, chose to rest instead of joining his team-mates for Saturday's training session. However, more than the spin department, Kohli and Shastri will have to ponder over choosing the right pace combination. With hometown hero Umesh Yadav set to retain his place on the back-up of a four-wicket haul in Bengaluru, it will be interesting to see if Mohammed Shami gets another game.

Irrespective of the combination, Kohli’s men will be keen sign off the series on a high.

The teams (from)

India: Virat Kohli (capt.), Rohit Sharma, K.L. Rahul, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Ajinkya Rahane, M.S. Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami.

Australia: Steve Smith (capt.), Hilton Cartwright, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade (wk), David Warner, Adam Zampa and Peter Handscomb.

Match starts at 1.30pm.

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