Brown. Green. Green.
That was the order of pitches in the three-match T20I series that India won 2-1. It made for some wonderment — just how many times have you seen a green-top in T20 cricket? The thing, though, is that they weren’t really green wickets. The ball didn’t swing in Cardiff or Bristol.
At Cardiff, the pacers were in contention only because there was awkward bounce. At Bristol, the short boundaries reduced their margins of error vastly. More than that, those green-tops took out India’s wrist spinners from the equation. Just a top layer of grass was enough to deny Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal that grip so necessary for spinners to operate in these conditions. At Cardiff, England played them watchfully and played them well. At Bristol, Kuldeep was dropped even.
If you thought this was just coincidence, think again. There is no evidence obviously that the England team management asked for such pitches, but it doesn’t take much to add two and two to get five. The underlying point being that early in the summer, the hosts have realised how to negate the Indian advantage. So, the big question is, how does the Trent Bridge pitch look?
Brown is the one-word answer you are looking for. There are two ways to look at this.
First, this is England’s favourite hunting ground for the past three years and they wouldn’t want to change the way things are here of all grounds. They smacked Pakistan for 444/3 in 2016. Then, four weeks ago, Australia were clobbered for 481/6. Alex Hales scored 171 and 147 runs in those two games, yet there is talk that Ben Stokes will be picked ahead of him for Thursday’s game.
It is a bewildering position to be in. This isn’t T20 cricket wherein Joe Root can be benched, for he is a vital member of their ODI plans. It indicates the riches English cricket possesses in the 50-over format currently, and points again to that adventurous, aggressive streak that has seen them score 300-plus 31 times, 350-plus 11 times and 400-plus thrice in the last three years. With 46 wins in 69 ODIs since the 2015 World Cup, it stands for good reason that they are the No 1-ranked side in this format.
Second, and this is a reference to their fearless approach; they are eager to take on the full might of this Indian team. Well, in the first ODI atleast. Having lost the T20I series 2-1, England are very aware that both sides are quite different when it comes to this longer format. India are a different beast in T20 cricket, but in ODIs, their line-up is beset with problems. This is despite boasting atleast seven players who are automatic picks in the first eleven.
Two of those seven are unavailable, however. Jasprit Bumrah is out due to injury because the Indian team management thought it fit to play him against Ireland. Bhuvneshwar Kumar could succumb to the same faulty selection policy — he was unavailable for the third T20 in Bristol and in all probability will miss this first ODI in Nottingham as well. He was monitored during practice on Wednesday, but didn’t bowl, a clear indicator that one of Shardul Thakur or Siddarth Kaul will get a chance.
The other relevant number here is six – as many as six different batsmen have been tried by the team management to sort the number four riddle. And a solution is still nowhere in sight. Unlike in previous ODI series, there is atleast some surety as to who will be picked in the playing eleven. Shreyas Iyer and Dinesh Karthik will have to wait, as KL Rahul is set to return to the ODI arena, albeit as a middle-order batsman. Whether he will bat at number three or four is anybody’s guess.
“It depends on where the captain wants to bat. That will be the most important question,” said Rohit Sharma on the eve of this first ODI. It is a ridiculous thought that Kohli — who averages a staggering 61.43 at number three — will have to drop down to solve a riddle that vexes Indian cricket. Even if he does make way for Rahul, unselfishly, there is no guarantee of success.
Simply because they are faced with a top ODI side, and deep-reaching changes such as this cannot be hammered down into place against England. Like Kuldeep and Chahal, this is a change that should have been weathered in, at home against Australia or New Zealand or Sri Lanka. But the management didn’t show any appetite for stability and instead adopted a revolving door policy.
In this equation, atleast one aspect is constant. The pairing of Chahal-Yadav will take field on Thursday in what can only be seen as a keen learning from the defeat in the 2017 Champions Trophy final. How they fare on a brownish wicket will indicate how far India have come on this road to the 2019 ODI World Cup final.
The rest, well, that will indicate how much further they still need to go.
India: Virat Kohli (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, MS Dhoni (wk), Dinesh Karthik, Suresh Raina, Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Shreyas Iyer, Siddarth Kaul, Axar Patel, Umesh Yadav, Shardul Thakur, Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
England: Eoin Morgan (c), Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler (wk), Moeen Ali, Joe Root, Jake Ball, Tom Curran, Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett, Ben Stokes, Adil Rashid, David Willey, Mark Wood.
Time: 5 pm IST | 12.30 pm BST
Venue: Trent Bridge, Nottingham