India vs England: Virat Kohli and Co have clear edge in ODIs; visitors' bowling their big bane

"We can't really look back on the Test series and take it into this one-day series with us. The Test series did not go well for us and we have a chance to come out here and perform well, like we know," said England all-rounder Ben Stokes ahead of the three-match ODI series against India starting from Sunday (15 January). "We have done well in the last two years against really good teams. We know it is going to be tough. We are full of excitement, full of confidence. We are looking forward to it," Stokes added.

Stokes is known to be a combative individual and a real competitor, and it's no wonder that he would be upbeat at the start of the series, but the moot question is: do England have it in them to put it past the Indians in the ODI series? Haven't England's shortcomings been exposed enough in the hiding that they received in the Test series?

Granted there have been a few additions to the England side – the Eoin Morgans and Jason Roys have come in and one feels England would be able to make do with their resources within the limits of limited-overs cricket.

MS Dhoni (L) celebrates with his teammate Virat Kohli (2nd L) after winning the 3rd ODI. AFP

MS Dhoni (L) with Virat Kohli. File photo: AFP

So for instance, they wouldn't have to endure the 'torture' of facing Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja for overs on end as in the Tests; bowling out the opposition isn't imperative, restricting them would do, and advantage can be taken of field restrictions. What England have, however, are a host of batsmen in Stokes, Jos Buttler, Billings, Hales and Roy, who can score their runs at a fast clip. So one imagines England would be a more competitive side in the shorter formats of the game than in Tests, in the same way as perhaps New Zealand and West Indies are.

The weight of history, however, may just be acting against England. After rummaging the record books you discover that the last time England won a bilateral ODI series against India was in England in 2011 and the last time England won a bilateral ODI series in India was way back in 1984-85 when David Gower's men were victorious by a margin of 4-1. Overall , England have lost to India more often than they have won and a 43.33 percent success rate against their hosts is below par.

India, on the other hand, have momentum on their side after their big Test series win and under Virat Kohli, the 'Men in Blue' will look to replicate their Test success in ODIs. As anyone with any interest in Indian cricket, and even those with none, know by now, India's long-time limited-overs captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni had abdicated his throne in favour of Virat Kohli. Dhoni had offloaded a part of the 'baggage' when he retired from Test cricket in 2014, handing over captaincy of the side to Kohli.

Kohli grabbed the opportunity with both hands and now has overseen an Australia-esque streak with India, who are unbeaten in the 18 Tests on the trot. India's performance in ODIs in recent times have, however, not lived up to that in the long-form version. If we leave aside the 3-2 win over New Zealand last year, for which they had to toil hard, and a couple of series wins against minnows Zimbabwe, which didn't really count for much (except maybe KL Rahul's arrival on the ODI stage), India's last ODI series win of note was against Sri Lanka in 2014-15. The series loss to Bangladesh and conceding 438 runs in a ODI against South Africa were two of the lowest points for India during this time.

Catch the live updates and ball-by-ball commentary of the 1st ODI between India and England at Pune here

For all the famous wins in limited-overs cricket under Dhoni, India's performance was seen to be stagnating especially in ODIs. Without in any way denigrating the captaincy skills of Dhoni, it must be said that the Indian ODI setup would have done with a shake-up. There is no gainsaying that the Kohli era has begun, it made sense to give him the full reins the Indian team, across formats. It would give Kohli the freedom to build a team that is his in every measure, in the same way that Sourav Ganguly and Dhoni himself built their own teams, imbuing them with their personalities. It can never happen with split captaincy, a concept which even Dhoni rubbished.

What will act as a blessing in disguise is that it will free Dhoni from the burdens that captaincy entails. He will not have to worry about team selection, or pushing himself down the order. He has made it no secret that batting at No 4 is what he likes. Dhoni has been seen to be curbing his natural carefree, attacking style of play after he became the captain in order to be a finisher and somewhere the Dhoni that we knew and loved, was lost. Dhoni showed what he is capable of at No 4 when he promoted himself up the order against New Zealand in Mohali last year, scoring 80 off 91 balls and stitching together a 151-run partnership with Kohli, and setting up a facile win for India in the end.

His 40-ball unbeaten 68 for India A in the first warm-up match against England on 10 January – his last match as captain of an 'India' side – showed that India may have got back the Dhoni of old. Dhoni, one feels is best suited in the avatar of a marauder, who would plunder runs. It has been widely held that he is wasted lower down the order at Nos 5 or 6, and the England series may see him batting at No 4 on a consistent basis.

If Dhoni bats at No 4, comeback man Yuvraj Singh will have to bat at No 5, leaving the No 6 position for the promising Manish Pandey who had scored a sparkling and match-winning century against Australia in Sydney early last year. Kohli is a certainty at the pivotal No 3 and it would be either Shikhar Dhawan or Ajinkya Rahane as Rahul's opening partner. Both Dhawan and Rahane gave good account of themselves in the warm-up match that they played against England. Thus while Dhawan scored 63 off 84 balls, Rahane slammed 91 off 83. However, in the final analysis, Dhawan's much superior career strike rate may just see him getting the nod ahead of Rahane.

Alternately, Rahane can be accomodated at No 5 and Yuvraj pushed to No 6. But that would mean Rahane would have to play a large part of the middle overs and possibly the death overs as well, when the primacy is on rotating the strike and going for big shots when there's an opportunity. Rahane, however, is often seen to be getting bogged down, and so Pandey may just be a better bet.

As far as the bowling is concerned, Ashwin and Jadeja are certain to start as the two spinners, with Yuvraj in support. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the in-form Jasprit Bumrah, who put up a great show in the Ranji Trophy semi-final for Gujarat only a few days back, and Umesh Yadav are expected to be the three pacers.

The abundance of all-rounders – Ashwin, Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar and indeed Yuvraj will give depth to India's batting and will help them go with an extra bowler, while not compromising on the batting quality. Ashwin and Jadeja have given enough examples of their batting prowess in recent times, which will reassure Kohli and coach Anil Kumble. In the absence of Suresh Raina, who had anchored the middle and lower middle order so successfully under Dhoni, but found no favour with the selectors for this series, Ashwin and Jadeja will have to shoulder that responsibility. Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav offer handy back-up as all-rounders, and Amit Mishra, who took 5/18, decimating New Zealand in the series decider last year gives good cushion to the two frontline spinners.

The Indian team thus looks very well balanced. England's strength, on the other hand, is in their batting. Jason Roy and Alex Hales are a fine opening pair. And with Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler, Sam Billings and Jonny Bairstow to follow, England's batting looks very formidable. Moreover, the all-rounders Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Adil Rashid, Liam Dawson and Chris Woakes can really hurt the opposition. A number of the England batsmen have hit some sort of form or the other in the practice matches against India A, and evidently the IPL experience had helped them get used to and excel in Indian conditions.

Billings, for example, pointed out that interacting with Rahul Dravid during his stint with the Delhi Daredevils helped him improve his footwork against spin, that plays such a big part on Indian pitches.

"It's (IPL stint) definitely going to help (in the upcoming series). My footwork against spin improved just in the six weeks here working with Rahul Dravid, one of the best players ever to play the game. It's an amazing experience and one I would like to have again," Billings said.

Morgan's form, though, will keep the England camp worried. Scores of 3 and 0 in the two practice matches flatter nobody. He would be playing a ODI for England for the first time since September last year and an average of just under 30 in ODIs in 2016 says that he has been searching for form for sometime now. But the England captain can perhaps draw upon his own IPL experience to find an antidote for Ashwin and Jadeja.

England's Achilles heel has to be their bowling. Their spinners had largely been unimpressive in the Test series and in the two practice matches, Moeen, Rashid and Dawson couldn't do anything significant, while their Indian counterparts did much better, and chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav even picked up a fifer in the first match. The pacers – Liam Plunkett, Ben Stokes, David Willey, Chris Woakes and Jake Ball one fears, also may bot have the wherewithal to restrict India's powerhouse of a batting line-up.

So all in all, Kohli and Co have a distinct edge in the ODI series, with England's bowling being their big bane. It will not be surprising, therefore, if the ODI series goes the same way as the Test series – a one-sided affair. Whatever happens, though, one thing is certain – India under Kohli will be a ruthless lot.

Published Date: Jan 14, 2017 16:49 PM | Updated Date: Jan 18, 2017 14:45 PM

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