"There are pockets of the [50-over] game that replicate T20 cricket”. Eoin Morgan’s words on the eve of the ODI series opener suggests there lies an extended T20 perspective for England in an otherwise adjunct leg of the series. As Morgan said, they will be testing their bench strength after playing the 5-match T20I series with their first-choice XI.
India, who did chop and change throughout the T20Is, also have things to focus on. There will be special attention on five players from the T20 perspective. The list includes three of India’s premier T20I players - Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Yuzvendra Chahal - who lost their place in the XI by the end of the T20I series. Meanwhile, the other two - Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya - will draw interest on their fitness.
The amount of pressure on Dhawan’s spot in India’s T20I side is directly proportional to the number of options available. There is a fair reason why that equation exists.
Prior to the series, his only competition was KL Rahul. Now he is further behind in the line with successful opening trials of Ishan Kishan and Virat Kohli. Trying to play with “more freedom” in the first T20I, Dhawan appeared to be a fish out of the water and spent the rest of the series on the bench.
ODI cricket is Dhawan’s strongest format. However, the format is losing its relevance right now and the southpaw might suffer the same fate. It is a critical series for him to first stay in contention and then push for his spot in India’s T20I side through the upcoming IPL.
Rahul had been so terrific in T20Is for so long, it felt as if the format comes naturally to him. However, the series against England was a rare blip where Rahul’s scores read 1, 0, 0, 14. He was benched for the series decider, suggesting that the management is open to bench him. Skipper Kohli also stated he would like to open more in T20s. Hence, Rahul would want to get amongst runs as soon as possible and stay relevant to India’s World Cup plans.
Rahul’s case is intriguing from the ODI scheme of things as well. Just over 12 months ago, he replaced Rishabh Pant to cement his spot in the side. Now Pant is back in the reckoning, pressing for an ODI comeback. Though, he might be rested in this series, there could soon be a face-off between the two for the wicketkeeping-batsman’s role.
Chahal is the most important of the lot here. While the squad has option for every other player mentioned in the list, Chahal is the only of his kind - a frontline leg-spinner. Yes, there is another leggie in Rahul Chahar but he is not there yet in terms of experience, at least. Hence, Chahal’s form becomes critical for India’s World Cup plans.
Chahal’s record against England has not been great either. In four ODIs, he averages 111.5 runs for his two wickets at an economy of 5.6, both his highest against any opponent. He has been neutralized by England’s attacking approach coupled with a number of left-handers in their middle-order. At a time when his numbers are going through a slump, it will be a stern test for the leg-spinner to rise again.
Pandya resumed cricket post lockdown as a pure batsman. Playing six white-ball games in Australia, he bowled only four overs, all in one game. After proving his worth as a batsman, Pandya came back into his elements as an all-rounder in the T20Is against England. Bowling 17 overs, he completed his four-over quota three times, a positive takeaway for the home side.
India will now look forward to how Pandya’s fitness persist in the longer format. He may not be pushed to bowl 10 overs but even a six over-spell will indicate positive signs from the only seam bowling all-rounder in India’s white-ball setup.
On similar lines, Bhuvneshwar's fitness will also be on India’s radar. The right-arm medium-pacer showcased that his skills are intact despite long injury-laden gaps in 2020. He picked only four wickets but the economy of 6.4 runs per over adorned with his trademark variations were signs of the old Bhuvi.
India would be tempted to pair him with Jasprit Bumrah at the T20 World Cup, bringing back the country’s best death bowling duo. The T20I series has laid the foundation for Bhuvi’s comeback and he would like to build on it in the ODI series.