CONTEXT. Until now, the ongoing England tour of India had it in abundance. The Test series, apart from two of the Big Three contesting in the most cherished format of the sport, had three teams keenly interested in the one spot available for the maiden World Test Championship final. The T20Is were the beta test for the upcoming T20 World Cup between two hot favorites for the title.
The approaching ODI series, however, lacks it. Especially in these pandemic times when workload management is the top priority for boards, both teams have picked near full strength squads. It is a surprise since both sides have a strenuous itinerary ahead.
India have had two full fledged tours, one each home and away. Then they head into IPL 2021 post which they will fly to England for the WTC Final before another long tour of England. England have their busiest year in recent times with 17 Tests in the itinerary, including the gruelling Ashes, which comes right at the end of the year. In between, the IPL has become an elephant in the room with its unrelenting schedule.
Considering these scenarios, the ODI series can be treated as an adjunct part of the tour. But from the fans’ perspective, the cricket between two of the most enthralling white-ball sides continues. England would also want to complete the tour with at least one trophy. After Chennai and Ahmedabad, the caravan moves to Pune. Interestingly, both sides last played ODI cricket against Australia with both ending on the losing side.
The extended T20 perspective
“Our middle order weren't as sharp as they normally are. One of our strengths is how quickly guys get in and adapt to surfaces, but that didn't necessarily happen”, said Eoin Morgan after England conceded the T20 series.
Can you prepare for T20Is by playing ODI cricket? Upto an extent, the answer could be in positive. England struggled to get going when the ball got older in the last two T20Is. With their T20 batting superstars staying for the ODI series, they will have another crack at facing India’s spinners during the middle phase of an innings. Joe Root’s absence also means England will get to test their fringe players, those who warmed the bench throughout the T20Is - Liam Livingstone, Sam Billings and Moeen Ali.
India, on the other hand, will be focused on some of the out-of-form players - Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul and Yuzvendra Chahal. Chahal will attain the spotlight amongst these. The supposed leader of India’s spin attack has had a troublesome time in ODIs since 2020.
The ODI perspective
From the ODI scheme of things, England would want to improve their batting numbers during the middle-overs, especially their average which is better than only Zimbabwe and West Indies amongst the Test playing nations since 2020.
India are way ahead in comparison (even in strike-rate where they are four runs ahead of England’s 85), owing to the glue that is Virat Kohli during this phase. England will be missing the same adhesive ability of Root. The England Test captain was critical to England’s fortunes when they beat India 2-1 in the ODI series in 2018, having scored consecutive hundreds. Easily the best batsman of spin in England’s camp, it will be interesting to see how England tackle the Indian spinners. Again, Root may have been rested for this series to give England’s T20 players another go at Indian spinners.
On the bowling front, Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes are rested which means England’s pace attack will rely on Mark Wood to provide the x-factor. In other options, Reece Topley has played only one ODI in the last five years, Sam Curran has five ODI caps and Tom Curran has blown hot and cold in his 24-match long ODI career as yet. On the other hand, India have Bhuvneshwar Kumar to make up for the absence of Jasprit Bumrah.
Pune’s Maharashtra Cricket Stadium has produced runs at 5.7 per over in its brief four-match history. It will be too early to anticipate the nature of the pitch to be laid out for this series but if it abides by that number, England may have some catching up to do in the pace-bowling department.
England will choose between Sam Billings and Liam Livingstone to replace Joe Root, most probably at three. Moeen Ali might slot in at number seven and as the spin companion of Adil Rashid.
With an 18-man squad, India are spoilt for choices in both batting and bowling departments. They may like to rest Rishabh Pant who has been excellent for India both behind and in front of the stumps in Test cricket over the last three months.
India: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (c), Shreyas Iyer/Suryakumar Yadav, KL Rahul (wk), Hardik Pandya, Washington Sundar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Shardul Thakur, T Natarajan/Mohammed Siraj/Prasidh Krishna
England: Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Liam Livingstone/Sam Billings, Eoin Morgan (c), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wk), Moeen Ali, Sam Curran, Adil Rashid, Mark Wood, Reece Topley/Tom Curran