Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s leadership as well as finishing skills will be put through a stern test when an inconsistent India take on a rejuvenated New Zealand in the series-deciding fifth and final cricket ODI, in Visakhapatnam on Saturday.
With the series locked at 2-2, Dhoni and his men will be eager to clinch the issue while history beckons Kane Williamson’s men as they have a glorious opportunity to taste their maiden success in a bilateral ODI rubber.
The only thing that can play spoilsport is the cyclone threat which can lead to complete washout.
While Dhoni’s captaincy may not be under immediate threat but a series loss against New Zealand will certainly raise questions about ‘Captain Cool’s’ ability to marshall his resources after his much publicised admission of being unable to rotate strike lower down the order.
Under Dhoni, India lost three ODI series — 1-2 against Bangladesh in Bangladesh, 1-4 against Australia Down Under and 2-3 at home against South Africa. The only ODI series victory in the last 18 months has been against a lowly Zimbabwe.
Away from home for four months spanning two continents, New Zealand’s only success was a 2-0 win against a lowly Zimbabwe, following which they drew South Africa 1-1 before being whitewashed 0-3 by India in the Tests.
Their ODI campaign started off on a sour note in Dharamasala but some strong batting performances by skipper Kane Williamson and Martin Guptill in Delhi and Ranchi respectively have managed to catch India off guard and level the five-match series 2-2.
That they have never won against India in four bilateral contests since 1988 will be a big motivation for the Black Caps to buck the trend and return home with an act of redemption.
Weather permitting, a tantalising finish is on the cards as India would be equally hungry for success at the Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium, a venue where they boast of a 4-1 record.
Their last win has been against Sri Lanka, a 5-0 whitewash way back in November-2014 and an under-fire Dhoni would not want another series loss at the fag end of his career.
The world No.4 India have just three more ODIs, against England, ahead of the coveted Champions Trophy in June next year and it would be an opportunity for Dhoni to give them a boost against a team which is ranked a notch higher.
The over-reliance on Virat Kohli has also been evident during the series as Indian Test captain was the prime performer in both victories during the first four matches so far.