India face the final curtain at Cardiff
One more match, 100 overs of effort at best, and India's dreadful tour can finally be consigned to history. Cardiff was the scene of England's first match of an eventful 2011 summer, against Sri Lanka back in May, and now it is preparing to lower the curtain on the season as well.
September 16, Cardiff
Start time 1400 (1300 GMT)
One more match, 100 overs of effort at best, and India's dreadful tour can finally be consigned to history. Cardiff was the scene of England's first match of an eventful 2011 summer, against Sri Lanka back in May, and now it is preparing to lower the curtain on the season as well. Two ad-hoc Twenty20s remain to be completed against West Indies next week, but to all intents and purposes, with the midpoint of September already passed, this contest possesses a true air of finality.
India achieved a victory of sorts at Lord's last week, insofar as they managed not to lose the fourth ODI - a match that was decreed to be a tie by Messrs Duckworth and Lewis after rain wrote off the final seven deliveries of the match. As had been the case with the wash-out in Durham, the arrival of rain probably did India a disservice at that particular moment in time, given that with Stuart Broad injured, England would have struggled to rustle up 11 more runs with one fit tail-ender still in hand.
Given the vast improvement in their performances in this one-day leg of the tour, it is perhaps a pity that India do not have at least a share of the series to fight for on Friday, not least for the sake of the hardy Welsh souls who will brave the autumnal conditions in Cardiff - and with any luck there will be more than 922 punters in the ground, which was the number that turned out to watch England's astonishing victory over Sri Lanka four months ago.
Nevertheless, all throughout this summer, England have proven the more resourceful at the critical moments of each contest, and the prospect of sending the World Champions home without so much as a consolation victory in ten international fixtures ought to be more than enough incentive to keep the intensity levels topped up for one more day.
Whether India are quite so motivated remains to be seen. Certainly the team's failure to attend the ICC Awards in Mayfair on Monday night - despite staying at a hotel less than ten minutes down the road - gave the impression of a squad that has mentally checked out of this tour. With the likes of Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni finding some late form with the bat, they should have the weapons to give England a battle, but realistically, all attention is now shifting to the rematch in India, starting on October 14. To win in your own seaming conditions is one thing, but to beat the World Champions in their own lair would be something else entirely.
(Completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
At Lord's on Sunday, poor old Ravi Bopara came as close as he ever has done to cracking international cricket. For 96 runs and 111 deliveries, he produced his finest performance in England colours, but then - with the rain pouring, wickets falling and overs running out - he clobbered Munaf Patel to deep midwicket from what proved to be the final ball of the match, and so left England with a share of the spoils instead of what could have been a one-run win on D/L. Still, he could hardly be blamed in the circumstances, and his final score far exceeded his previous best of 60 in 62 previous matches. In the absence of Eoin Morgan, Bopara has a big chance to prove his true one-day worth in the coming weeks.
It's been a pretty bleak tour for MS Dhoni, whose previously unimpeachable status as India's captain has come under serious scrutiny while his team has staggered from one disaster to the next. On a personal note, however, he is just beginning to rediscover his best form as the summer winds to an end, and after digging India out of a massive hole at The Oval, he combined with Suresh Raina at Lord's in a record partnership of 169. His personal share was 78 from 71 balls, and stands him in good stead for the return series next month, let alone a shot at that elusive consolation prize in Cardiff.
Stuart Broad sustained a torn muscle in his shoulder while bowling his final over at Lord's, and so misses the rest of the English season as well as the tour of India next month. The logical replacement would be Jade Dernbach, who missed out in that fixture to give Steven Finn an outing on his home ground, although Cardiff has been known to take spin, so Samit Patel could slot in alongside Graeme Swann. With two spinners likely in India, it could be a tempting option.
England (probable): 1 Craig Kieswetter (wk), 2 Alastair Cook (capt), 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Ian Bell, 5 Ravi Bopara, 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Tim Bresnan, 8 Graeme Swann, 9 James Anderson, 10 Steven Finn, 11 Jade Dernbach
Through the arrival of Parthiv Patel and Ajinkya Rahane at the top of the order, and the revival of Raina and Dhoni lower down, India's batting has acquired a relative degree of solidity in the latter stages of the tour. As ever it is their bowling that has struggled to contain England's ambitions. RP Singh put in a shift with the new ball at Lord's but still ended up going at nearly seven an over, while Munaf Patel's important over at the death didn't quite mask his previous frailties. Maybe the time has come to blood the speedy Varun Aaron? They don't have much to lose.
India (probable): 1 Ajinkya Rahane, 2 Parthiv Patel, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Praveen Kumar, 10 and 11 two out of Munaf Patel, RP Singh and Varun Aaron
Pitch and conditions
The weather is expected to be clear for the evening of the match, though Wales in September is no time or place for making assumptions. When asked how the wicket looked, Cook replied, helpfully: "22 yards long!" However, he did concede that two spinners was in his mind.