It's still early days in Team India's marathon tour of England, but on the evidence of the contest so far, we can safely conclude that when it comes to white-ball cricket, India and England are the two most exciting teams in the world right now.
The relatively brief T20I series has also shown that the two teams are evenly matched, and on their day, match winners from either side can take their team home. Jos Buttler is in the form of his life and is probably the most accomplished T20 batsman in the world right now. But even as he failed to deliver the other night at Cardiff, Alex Hales put his hand up and expertly wrapped up the chase in the final over.
India's top three did all the scoring in the first game at Manchester, but even as they all failed in the second game, the 'Men in Blue' managed to post a competitive total with the help of its middle order. The sheer talent in these two units ensures they are never entirely out of the game.
In T20 cricket, when teams are this evenly matched in their skills, the one that is more proactive and tactically superior often wins the day. This format continues to get more and more tactical with each passing day, thanks mainly to the high-stakes T20 leagues where we have seen captains getting more fluid with their selection choices and batting lineups, often looking to surprise the opposition with their starting 11 (to borrow a football terminology).
MS Dhoni led the way in ringing the changes in the Indian Premier League (IPL) this year. Generally known to prefer a settled 11, Dhoni made as many as four changes to his Chennai Super Kings (CSK) lineup in one of the games. His batting orders were unpredictable too. You never knew where Rayudu will bat in a game or when he would throw in a Deepak Chahar up the batting order. Even the timing of Dhoni's brutal assaults was unpredictable; you never knew whether he would take the all guns blazing approach in the 13th or the 19th over. No wonder his team were the eventual winners of the league.
India started the Ireland T20Is showing flexibility in selection and batting order. In Sunday's decider at Bristol as well, Kohli needs to be enterprising with his combination and approach with both with bat and ball. Rohit Sharma is looking a bit scratchy at the moment and given the form KL Rahul is in, even number three is too low for him in a T20 game. Kohli has the option of sending Rahul or himself at the top, and play someone like Dinesh Karthik, who has been in splendid form of late, in the middle order. He should learn from England, who are playing it smart by utilising Buttler's form at the top of the order.
Depending on the pitch, Kohli also has the choice of adding an extra spin option to the team by picking Krunal Pandya, who can replace his brother Hardik. IPL teaches you to have no holy cows in team selection, and the biggest stars in world cricket are often benched to help get the right team combination for a particular game.
Another set piece Kohli must ponder upon ahead of the series decider is the option to open with a spinner. Jason Roy is a known shaky starter against spinners, and Chahal can exploit the weakness early. He may also get smashed for 20 in the first over, but T20 is a 'no risk no gain' format. You must be willing to throw the dice without worrying too much about the outcome.
One area where neither of these teams have any doubt is their preference to chase after winning the toss. When playing conditions don't vary between the two innings, chasing is the preferred mode of operation for most T20 captains these days, more so for the ones who rely heavily on their batting as England and India do.
In the bigger context of the overall tour, a win in the T20I series may not mean much to the two teams beyond some bragging rights going into the business end of the trip. The focus of this tour will squarely be on the Test series. One already hears experts discussing the outcome of T20I games on the basis of its impact on the Test series. When Kuldeep picked five wickets in the first game, more than his impact on the game he won, people were talking about his chances in the Test series in place of Ravichandran Ashwin or Ravindra Jadeja.
A series-win is still a series-win though, and with 2019 World Cup set to be played in the same conditions, these two teams, who also happen to be the current favourites for the event next year, would be happy with the morale boost.
England: Jason Roy, Jos Buttler (wk), Alex Hales, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan (c), Jonny Bairstow, David Willey, Liam Plunkett, Chris Jordan, Adil Rashid, Jake Ball, Sam Curran, Dawid Malan, Moeen Ali.
India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Lokesh Rahul, Virat Kohli (c), Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Dinesh Karthik, Manish Pandey, Krunal Pandya, Deepak Chahar, Siddarth Kaul.
Time: 6.30 pm IST | 2 pm BST
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