India January 11(IM):The last quarter of 2012 was a rather forgettable one for Team India. After all, England handed MS Dhoni's side a 2-1 defeat in the four-match Test series. After the drubbing they got in England in 2011, the return series was supposed to be India's chance to extract revenge. But it was the visiting team that made merry before Christmas. They also drew the Twenty20 series 1-1.
And if that wasn't enough, arch-rivals Pakistan - here during England's absence - beat India in the ODI series after sharing the honours in the T20 rubber. The world champions didn't play like world champions. We were expecting wholesale changes, but the selectors chose to drop only the woefully out-of-form Virender Sehwag. His opening partner Gautam Gambhir, no less inconsistent, escaped the axe. In the absence of Sehwag, Ajinkya Rahane will partner Gambhir at the top. Yuvraj Singh, the most capped player in the side, will need to step up. And the southpaw's record at Rajkot should do his confidence a world of good. He had mesmerised Rajkotians with unbeaten 138, off just 78 balls, against the same opposition - albeit at a different ground - four years ago.
Suresh Raina is living with the 'Sword of Damocles' hanging over his head, and it is imperative he delivers. It will be interesting to see what combination Dhoni tries out in the series opener on Friday. On Thursday, Cheteshwar Pujara - who has broken into the ODI squad - completed the second triple century (Ranji Trophy quarterfinal between Saurashtra vs Karnataka at the Saurashtra University ground in Rajkot) of his first-class career. "It's difficult to adjust him in the current line-up". But Dhoni is known for 'misguiding' the media. Who knows, he may well spring a surprise by handing the young man his ODI cap. The crowd will be thrilled if both Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja were to play.
Young seamers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ashok Dinda have also impressed. Uttar Pradesh seamer Kumar, in particular, is already a vital cog in the Indian bowling attack, now spearheaded by the lanky Ishant Sharma.
We must also not confuse between Dhoni the skipper and Dhoni the batsman. Much as we would want the selectors to replace the captain, there's no way you can drop him. India, who blanked England 5-0 in the last quarter of 2011, can inflict pain on this side too. The visitors, who lost both their warm-up ties, are without James Anderson, Jonathan Trott, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad. The swanky Saurashtra Cricket Association stadium, located at Khanderi near here, is all set to host its first international match. And like all Rajkot wickets, this will be a belter. So get ready to see a lot of runs.
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