Manchester: Lancashire Cricket County Club bore a busy look on Monday. Final security measures were put in place. The ground’s bars were stocked with beer, which will start flowing at least an hour or two before the first ball. India and England completed their final practices, with Eoin Morgan and Virat Kohli posing with the trophy as well. Hell, even the big screens were tested out, albeit with Brazil versus Mexico being telecast from the World Cup in Russia.
It can be assumed that there was ample chatter about the upcoming series. Yes. Perhaps, there was talk about preparing for the 2019 ODI World Cup. Sure. Maybe, there was some mention of England’s pre-quarterfinal against Colombia, which will be played simultaneously. Absolutely! The most talk, surprisingly though, was about the Indian Premier League (IPL).
“We had 12 players in the IPL this season and that experience is a benefit to us. It exposes our players to the biggest competition in the world,” said Morgan.
“As Jos Buttler has said, playing in the IPL has done great things for his mindset. Similarly for Chris Woakes, Moeen Ali and others. It has also made relations better between Indian and English teams, a familiarity that wasn’t there earlier because we didn’t know the guys enough,” said Kohli.
You would think that the new season of IPL is upon us. Then again, you will be forgiven for it, because the debate over bilateral T20I series is currently a raging one. England’s full-time coach Trevor Bayliss sees no value in playing international T20 cricket. So much so, he is now spending time scouting domestic English tournaments while assistant coach Paul Farbrace takes over charge for this Indian series.
This isn’t about whether T20Is should happen or not, and what is the scope of T20 leagues across the world. Instead, this is about the precise context those very leagues have added to this three-match bilateral series. When India last played here in 2014, it was only a solitary tour-ending match in Birmingham. This time, it is a full-fledged series featuring three T20Is.
Someone does see value in it, and it is precisely this thinking that has brought English cricket forward in the limited-overs’ arena. Gone is the gentlemanly approach, the play-by-the-textbook mannerism of white-ball cricket, and it has been replaced by the same adventurism we see beamed in our living rooms whenever the IPL or the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) or the Big Bash is on.
The likes of Morgan, Buttler, Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Sam Billings, Ali and Chris Jordan have gone forth, and assimilated that slam-bang culture in their cricket. It is no surprise that currently this same crop of cricketers is busy regaling the English crowds with their exploits in limited-overs’ formats. For good reason, they are considered one of the top ODI/T20I sides today.
And, they are just about to go one-on-one no-holds-barred with another top ODI/T20I side. While the BCCI chalked out this tour schedule keeping in mind the acclimatisation phase for the Test series, the limited-overs’ leg has inadvertently worked out to be a lip-licking prospect. India, unburdened by the weight of expectations of Test cricket, are a different beast altogether.
Of course, the ‘beast’ does have a couple shortcomings. Jasprit Bumrah’s injury is a real blow for India, but at the same time it is a positive in the sense that their second-choice pacers will get vital game time. It is worth pondering though if Umesh Yadav and Siddarth Kaul are equally good. Then, there is the middle-order weakness. A top-heavy batting Indian line-up lacks cohesiveness even when building on a good start. Losing momentum is a problem herein.
England can exploit this weakness for they have two quality spinners in Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid. Despite winning a majority of their T20I games against West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and South Africa in the last one year, this mighty Indian line-up hasn’t faced two such spinners in the same bowling attack. Contending with them is going to be an equally tough task as the one faced by English batsmen against India’s wrist-spin twins, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal.
For their part, both Kohli and Morgan have promised ample experimentation, beyond the opening combination that is. Buttler will continue to open along with Roy, while Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan will pair up too. How does KL Rahul fit in, if at all? Will Suresh Raina continue to bat at No 3 on bouncier tracks? Can India shrug off rigidity in their line-up and play as per situation? Alternately, if England want to mix things up, how do Hales and Jonny Bairstow fit in?
It is almost as if both sides are equally matched, both in terms of quality and experience in T20 cricket, as also their current problems and methods leading up to the World Cup next year. Perhaps then, it will come down not to matching equations in batting, spin or pace bowling. Instead, this could be one series where individual performances matter.
For England, that man is Buttler, riding high on the wave of his IPL success. Morgan admitted as much in the pre-series press conference. Then, he was asked about whether bowling to Kohli with the white ball is a tougher prospect. “I am not sure… I am not sure how to answer that,” the English skipper replied, without giving away an inch as regards his actual thoughts.
For India then, undoubtedly, the main man is Kohli, both now and for the entirety of this English summer. And his reputation precedes him in this part of the world, at least against the white ball.
India: Virat Kohli (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Suresh Raina, Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni (wk), Dinesh Karthik, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Krunal Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Deepak Chahar, Hardik Pandya, Siddarth Kaul, Umesh Yadav.
England: Eoin Morgan (c), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Jos Buttler (wk), Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, David Willey, Dawid Malan.