Wellington: Their morale dented after losing the series, India would be desperate to salvage some lost pride by notching their maiden win on the tour when they take on an upbeat New Zealand side in the fifth and final ODI in Wellington on Friday. Team India have lost much in the past two weeks, in lieu of a 3-0 series loss as also the climb-down from their number one ODI ranking. (Very difficult for India to defend World Cup: Sunil Gavaskar)
The visitors lost the first ODI in Napier by 24 runs, then went down in Hamilton by 15 runs, tied the third ODI in Auckland, but lost the fourth in Hamilton by seven wickets to squander the series. (Ross Taylor reveals NZ tactic of not giving away wickets to Indian spinners)
At the Westpac Stadium on Friday, they will be playing for more than just pride. A consolation win will mean that the series will end at 3-1 rather than 4-0, the latter a very embarrassing score-line if it indeed comes to pass. Even so, victory will only restore so much respectability for the reigning world champions, considering how awfully wrong things have gone for Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his team ever since they stepped out of home in early December. (Simon Doull slams 'rigid' India's selection policy)
In seven ODIs since, they are yet to win a single match, losing five and tying one (one no-result). If they indeed want to register their first win across all formats in nearly two months, they need to view this fifth ODI in singularity and not as part of the already lost contest. (Furious MS Dhoni urges fast bowlers to 'use their heads')
The fourth ODI at Seddon Park was a must-win game to keep the series alive, but India were not up to the mark. In a desperate bid to come back in the series, they made a plethora of changes, and most of them didn't work out as intended. If the Wellington ODI is considered a one-off match, then the team's think-tank will be able to address the various issues that have come up in the last two limited-overs series that they have played in New Zealand, and in South Africa previously. There are many questions that need to be answered and as always it begins at the top. (Mohammed Azharuddin critical of Shikhar Dhawan's technique)
In his post-match comments, after the fourth ODI loss, Dhoni had stated the need to "rest players and allow them time to think about their game", thus justifying the double-dropping of Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina.
Dhoni also highlighted the team management's decision to "keep playing Ajinkya Rahane in the middle order" and that "Virat Kohli's move up the order was only a one-off thing".
But Dhawan might go back to the opening spot, given that this shuffle of the batting order misfired pretty badly. It will also be instigated by the fact that Rohit Sharma has finally found his bearings, converting a start into a crucial 79 runs in the last match.
It could mean that Stuart Binny would sit out after a none-too-noticeable debut outing, because Ambati Rayudu looked good in his cameo knock of 37 runs at number four. It was his first chance batting in an ODI since mid-2013.
Suresh Raina has previously been given a very long rope and Dhoni has always stressed on the "need to learn from mistakes". In the bowling attack, Amit Mishra was seen warming up in the nets on Thursday, and could be a shoe-in to replace R Ashwin who has been off-colour recently.
Mishra was given the odd-chance to play against Australia in the ODIs in October and then resigned to the bench again after he was smacked for 0-78 in that one outing. He did play all five ODIs in Zimbabwe, when Ashwin was rested, and took 18 wickets there.
It may not be of much consequence, but in those same five matches, Jadeja -- India's best spinner at the moment -- only returned five wickets. Mohammed Shami has been a work horse for the team on its two tours. He has taken wickets but has also given away too many runs. A rest at this moment, ahead of the crucial Test series, will be very welcome. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been off-colour while Varun Aaron is seen to be quite raw on his return to international cricket.
Dhoni had also spoken about a bowling pool talent, from which to pick for the 2015 World Cup, and it only makes sense to give Ishwar Pandey a go in that light, particularly since he is also part of the Test squad.
Meanwhile, New Zealand will only be too happy to change their line-up. They have successfully completed the job with one match to play, and it is a success that should be celebrated for quite some time in their cricketing ranks. Yet, 4-0 is their obvious target against one of the top-ranked ODI sides in the world and they will look to play the majority of their best and fit players in this last match to continue to impress.
The 22-year-old fast bowler Matt Henry has been drafted into their squad as a late addition, since Corey Anderson and Tim Southee are both carrying niggles. Anderson missed the last match in Hamilton and both he and Southee are in the Test squad as well, thus making this an obvious move on their selectors' part.
It remains to be seen if the untested Henry, who bowls between 140 and 145 kmph, will be unleashed on the Indian batting like the injured Adam Milne previously.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain & wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Stuart Binny, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishwar Pandey, Varun Aaron, Amit Mishra.
New Zealand: Brendon McCullum (capt), Corey Anderson, Martin Guptill, Mitchell McClenaghan, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, James Neesham, Luke Ronchi (wk), Jesse Ryder, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson, Hamish Bennett, Matt Henry.