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Dhoni doubtful starter, Karthik flies in as cover

New Delhi: India will have to overcome the cold, poor form and an extremely talented and in-form opposition to prevent a whitewash when they take on Pakistan in the third and final one-dayer at the Kotla on Sunday.

The hosts lost the first game in Chennai by six wickets and the second in Calcutta by 85 runs.

The teams did not exactly get a ‘warm’ welcome in the capital. The temperature dropped to three degrees, and if the forecast is anything to go by, an equally freezing Sunday lies ahead. The only hope for the hosts, and the sell-out crowd, will be a win that could so easily warm their hearts at the Kotla.

But, on the evidence of India’s performance in the series, that is easier said than done. India’s batting and bowling have been miserable.

To add to their woes, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India’s highest run-getter in the series, is a doubtful starter with a sore back.

“I suffered a sore back during practice today,” said Dhoni later.

“I would definitely try to play but Dinesh Karthik has already been called as a back up.”

Asked who would lead the side in case he doesn’t figure in the final XI, the captain said: “Hopefully I will play…. if that doesn’t happen, then we will see what has to be done.” Dhoni though was non-committal on the inclusion of Ajinkya Rahane.

The Team India captain said Karthik could add strength to India’s batting, but his absence will be a terrible blow to an already struggling Indian batting. For the record, the Pakistan bowlers haven’t managed to dismiss Dhoni in the series thus far.

The cold weather is another worry. Dhoni struggled to recall if he had been part of a cricket contest, in such cold conditions in India.

“In 2007, it was extremely chilly and windy in Ireland. In South Africa during the IPL, we had to play in extremely cold weather once at Bloemfontein. But no, never in India before,” he said.

Despite the freezing conditions, not a single Indian player — with the exception of Yuvraj Singh — chose to stay away from an optional practice session.

The team reached the venue at 9am and practised for close to three hours. The focus, not surprisingly, was on the two openers — Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag — who have failed to give India a good start in the first two matches.

The openers batted for a long time and later had a long discussion with the two selectors present — Vikram Rathore and Saba Karim. The chat over, they did some knocking with Indian fielding coach Trevor Penny.

Both Gambhir and Sehwag are struggling with the bat. Equally worrying is the manner in which they have been dismissed by the Pakistan seamers in the series. In equally poor form is the other Delhi batsman, Virat Kohli.

Both captains described the newly laid pitch a “good batting strip”, but the chilly wind and the overcast conditions could turn the tide in favour of the seamers. Should that be the case, Pakistan will have the edge, something that their captain Misbah-ul Haq announced in no uncertain terms.

“It’s cold here… but that’s all right,” said Misbah. “While coming to India, we played few matches in Lahore. That would help... Our team is better in all departments. But our bowlers, especially the seamers, are doing very well. They can definitely take advantage of the conditions.”

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about India’s bowlers.

TEAMS

India (from): Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Dinesh Karthik, Amit Mishra and Shami Ahmed.

Pakistan (from): Misbah-ul Haq, Mohammed Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal, Junaid Khan, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammed Irfan, Anwar Ali, Haris Sohail, Imran Farhat, Umar Akmal, Wahab Riaz, Zulfiqar Babar.

Umpires: Billy Bowden, Sudhir Asnani. TV: Vineet Kulkarni.

Match Referee: Roshan Mahanama.

Match starts: 12 noon.