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Sunday, 24 August 2014

India - An Opportunity for Redemption

Pre-match analysis of the India England One Day International series kicking-off at Bristol in a few hours. Much to play for, particularly for India. 

As the five match one day international series between India and England gets underway in a few hours at Bristol, one is tempted to make predictions. But hey, if the predicted results did not throw a surprise, it would not be sport.

Indian Squad

The Indian eleven likely to take the field at the opener would be - Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Karn Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami.  Missing the game most likely would be Mohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Stuart Binny, Dhawal Kulkarni, Ambati Rayudu and Sanju Samson. However irrespective of stats outside England, the decision concerning Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma would certainly give the Indian management something to think about. The pace of Umesh Yadav would be a useful asset for Dhoni to call upon, and let’s face it, the threat of Bhuvneshwar Kumar was minimal as the recent test series progressed.

Sounds a very promising Indian squad, until, you stack it up against the England squad, the conditions and the form.

India has promise in the batting line up, and will have to ensure they take their time to see off the early threat, and build partnerships through their innings. Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina could be pivotal at the top and the late middle order for India’s cause. Not to undermine the importance of  the other batsmen in the top order to come good for India, it is these two who have escaped the scars of the recent test series, and offer a mix of skills and application necessary to take the battle to the opposition. Some crystal ball gazing here, no doubt, but England’s plans against Kohli, Dhawan and Jadeja seem to have worked well so far. Unless they dig deep and demonstrate an ability to overcome technical weaknesses and fight with grit, they may be struggling again.

The biggest promise for India is presented by the spin duo of Ashwin and Karn Sharma. If early in-roads can be made with the new ball, India may be able to control the game with their spin options in the middle overs. This may sound counter intuitive on a track fresh English track, but with field restrictions and run-rate pressures, it is a different ball game.

The Opposition

The England eleven to take the field at the Bristol opening game could be Alastair Cook, Alex Hales, Gary Balance, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Chris Jordan and James Anderson. The tough decision for England would be leaving out Harry Gurney and Steven Finn, although resting Ben Stokes and James Tredwell is an easier call, given the performance of Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes with the ball in the recently concluded test series. The absence of Stuart Broad should not be a big headache for the English team management, as they have enough and more options available. They had to drop Ravi Bopara from the squad, which is ample evidence of the abundance of choice they are dealing with.

England have a formidable new opening partnership in Alex Hales and Alastair Cook, with Hales in scintillating form, eager to prove himself in the 50 over format and push further. Opening with Hales, Cook will have the perfect opportunity to take his time and play anchor. The top and middle order for England gets even stronger in this format with Morgan joining Balance, Bell, Root, Buttler and Moeen Ali. The bowling will be led by James Anderson, no doubt, and it is his early spell which will play a pivotal role for England.

Condition will Dominate

One could argue about the recent ODI form of both teams, but it does not aid the discussion much. Take for instance England’s ODI series loss to visitors Sri Lanka, after taking the lead in the opener at the Oval. India won an away series in Bangladesh, with a side which excluded a few of their star performers. But as would be obvious to followers of the game, these results are mere statistic and will account for little in predicting the outcome of this series.

The conditions that India have contended with in the recently conclude Test series, their inability to cope with English swing and seam bowling is the key factor which will determine the outcome of the ODI series too. Back in 2011, the ODI leg of the Indian tour to England was white-washed 5-0, in line with the one-sided result of the Test series which had preceded it. The reasons were the conditions, as also the momentum from the test series. Players bringing in confidence from individual performances, comradery and unity of a winning team, the green, damp and colder conditions will certainly put wind into England’s sail. In my assessment, India is really in a corner here.

The BCCI have made some swift moves to rejuvenate the support to the team, and the dressing room talk must be full of tough love certainly. But as many experts have said, it is the players on the field who have to perform. And in case of this Indian team, show a real will to fight.

A series result of 3-2 either way should be welcomed by both teams and their fans, as long as the games are close to 100 overs each. No more meek surrenders please, that is not a good advertisement for the sport.

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