Chester-le-Street: Battered and bruised in what has turned out to be an abysmal tour, a demoralised India go into the five-match ODI cricket series against England on Saturday with repeated batting collapses and toothless bowling continuing to haunt them.
Coming into the series as world`s numero uno Test team and ODI world champions, India have had a nightmarish English summer so far with the visitors tasting victory only in the three practice matches ahead of the limited overs rubber.
After the 0-4 pounding in the Test series, India lost the lone Twenty20 game against England by six wickets at Manchester on Wednesday and things dont look too bright ahead of the ODI series.
And looking at England`s ruthless form and India`s misery, it would prove to be a Herculean task for Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men to get the better of the motivated home team.
England are presently world`s number one Test side, which they achieved by virtue of a 4-0 clean sweep over India, and reigning Twenty20 world champions and it is only logical to believe that they would now aim for the pole position in ODI charts as well.
A 5-0 sweep in the ODI series would take England to the number three spot in the ICC rankings behind Australia and Sri Lanka and downgrade India, presently number three, to fifth position.
Besides, the upcoming series would also give England an opportunity to avenge their 1-5 and 0-5 drubbing at the hands of India on two previous visits to the sub-continent.
Besides, it would put Alastair Cook`s men in right frame of mind for the return visit to India next month for five more ODIs.
To add to their agony, the Indians were also done in by a spate of injuries to their key players since stepping on English soil.
India will be without the services of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh in the ODI series after they were ruled out due to injuries.
While Zaheer Khan`s tour ended before it started, Yuvraj, Sehwag and Harbhajan followed suit with Gambhir being the latest casualty.
But inspite of these injuries, the Indians still have a formidable batting line up with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Dhoni and new entrant Ajinkya Rahane up their ranks.
While Tendulkar would be eagerly waiting to reach his much-anticipated 100th international century, Dravid would like to leave his mark in the final ODI series of his career as he has already announced his retirement from limited overs cricket after the England tour.
But the series would be a test of character for Kohli, Sharma, Raina and Rahane against a potent English attack, which is expected to use the short deliveries now and then to trouble the young guns.
But going into the match, the main concern for Dhoni would be his toothless bowling attack, which has so far failed to extract assistance from the favourable English conditions.
Except for Praveen Kumar, who can pose challenge upfront, and Munaf Patel, who is skillful at the death, the rest of the Indian attack looks ordinary.
Besides, the absence of a proper fifth bowler is a huge worry for India with the likes of Kohli, Raina and Sharma expected to do the job.
But they can be cannon fodders to the likes of Alastair Cook and Ian Bell, who had a double century each in the preceding Tests, and would be back to torment India.
If that is not enough, England`s middle-order mainstay Jonathan Trott is also back in the fray in a format in which he averages 53.04.
The steady top-order is backed by a galaxy of power hitters -- Eoin Morgan, Tim Bresnan, Samit Patel, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad.
On the bowling front, England`s already strong attack will be further bolstered by the return of James Anderson.
Considering the all-round capabilities of his team, Cook could go into the match with five frontline bowlers – the pace quartet of Tim Bresnan, Jade Dernbach, Stuart Broad and Anderson backed by off-spinner Graeme Swann, who presently is world`s best ODI bowler.
India also are not in the same league as the home team when it comes to fielding.
To make matters worse for the touring side, the match is being played at a venue which is expected to offer assistance to pace and swing.
Going by past performance England can be considered as a mediocre ODI side, but on record they have won eight of their last 10 bilateral series.
In comparison, India too has not done badly in England in ODIs in the last 25 years. Between 1974-2007, the two sides played 28 matches in which England won 15 and India 11.
But the worry is that the balance sheet could look lopsided after fifth ODI of the series in Cardiff on September 16.
England: Alastair Cook (capt), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Jade Dernbach, Steven Finn, Craig Kieswetter, Eoin Morgan, Samit Patel, Ben Stokes, Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Ajinkya Rahane, Rahul Dravid, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel, RP Singh, Vinay Kumar, R Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Parthiv Patel, Varun Aaron.
Umpires: Billy Doctrove (West Indies) and Richard Illingworth (Eng).
Third umpire: Marais Erasmus (South Africa)
Match referee: Jeff Crowe (New Zealand)
The match will start at 2.45 p.m. IST.