RANCHI - India's bowlers are usually a much scrutinised lot. As the ODI series moves east to their captain's hometown, Ranchi, the spotlight will shine ever brighter on them. They have conceded more than 300 every time they have bowled in this series. MS Dhoni has warned that one cannot expect his batsmen, powerful as they are, to score that many in every match.
The cricketing world has been conspiring against ODI bowlers for years now, but lamenting about one less deep fielder won't help India. Even nine fielders on the leg-side boundary would not have helped them in Mohali during Ishant Sharma's 30-run over, because James Faulkner's sixes would have cleared them easily. Will the India bowlers be able to keep their cool at the death? Even in Pune, Australia were 264 for 7 in the 47th over before Faulkner took them to 304.
It seems an age ago, going by their current form, but in January, India's bowlers dismissed England for 155 in 42.2 overs in Ranchi's first international match. The fast bowlers found some movement, and the spinners some turn. Dhoni got the chance to hit the winning runs, making it a "perfect script" for him in his hometown. As long as India manage to square the series, he won't care about ideal endings this time. Falling 1-2 behind means India have to win three of four games to take the series.
Australia will know that it was the contributions from the lower order that pushed them past 300 in both their wins. They have started solidly but have lost wickets regularly in the middle. In Mohali, they were tied down by Ravindra Jadeja, who has conceded only 4.60 runs an over this series. With only four men allowed in the deep, the odd pressure-releasing boundary shouldn't be too hard to find.
Various ODI captains have spoken of the need to preserve wickets against the two new balls and build for an onslaught later. In this context, a strong opening partnership becomes even more important. Australia's openers have put on 56, 110, 74 and 68 so far on the tour. India's openers, in comparison, have managed 12, 26, 176 and 14. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have established themselves at the top this year, and now India need them to be more consistent.
Glenn Maxwell has threatened to cause much damage with a couple of fearsome cameos, as his 53 off 32 in Jaipur highlighted. He's also been involved in a couple of mix-ups that have led to him being run-out. "I need to work on that," Maxwell said. "It's something that's happened to me a few times in the past. Hopefully it stops very soon." Australia will want him to kick on tomorrow.
Now that the selectors have persisted with Ishant for the rest of the series, the big question is whether he will play in Ranchi. "I hope he will come back strongly tomorrow," Suresh Raina said of his team-mate in the pre-match press conference. If one goes by that statement, Ishant will keep his place. Considering how much Dhoni supported Rohit during his horror run in 2012, backing Ishant for a few more games won't be much of a stretch.
Australia, like India, have played the same XI for the first three games, and there seems to be no pressing reason why they would want to tinker with their combination.
AUSTRALIA: Aaron Finch, Phillip Hughes, Shane Watson, George Bailey (capt), Adam Voges, Glenn Maxwell, Brad Haddin (wk), James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Clint McKay, Xavier Doherty
INDIA: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Vinay Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Jaydev Unadkat.