Cricket

India vs England: Newcomers, comeback men, unbeaten series runs in spotlight as teams inch closer to T20 WC

It doesn't take long for hopes to crumble, promise to be crushed and journeys to derail when you are touring a place like India. After a start that elicited a lot of hope, England find themselves in familiar territory, as many teams touring India do, outclassed and outplayed, losing the Test series 3-1 after being 1-0 up. Aspirations evaporated and the direction veered.

Things unravelled quickly after the first Test on this tour and we are already on the next stop with the T20s on the horizon. On a long tour inside the cauldron that is India, the mental and physical fatigue starts to creep in early and teams find it difficult to recuperate, struggling to hit the refresh button. But with a new captain and a relatively different and refreshed squad, England might not find it that difficult to pick themselves up.

What will also inspire confidence is the fact that over a period of time, England have done well in this format and are the No 1 side in T20s. They are unbeaten in their last eight bilateral T20I series and have a full-strength squad at their disposal which has led the former captain Michael Vaughan to question the much-criticised rotation policy and English cricket's leadership powers.

It will surely be a sterner challenge for India against Eoin Morgan's in-form men.

India have also turned a corner in the format and have gone unbeaten in their last seven series, including five consecutive wins in the last five. The build-up to the T20 World cup gathers a bit of momentum now with the selection of an exciting squad for the England T20I series which has a good mix of experience, youth and flamboyance.

File image of members of Indian cricke team. AFP

File image of members of Indian cricke team. AFP

The focus will be on the new-comers and the comeback men as India try to narrow down the right personnel and combination for the T20 World Cup. The addition of aggressive options and X-factor might help them change their approach which has been a tad cautious in the past.

"The players we have added in the squad is precisely to give our batting more depth and not play in a similar kind of pattern we have played with in the past," Kohli said. "We want to be a side that plays free cricket, not having any baggage of lack of depth or one guy having to bat long enough to make sure we get to a big total.

"We have explosive guys in the team who can change the game at any stage and that is exactly what we have tried to address.

"This time around you will see guys playing more freely, more expressive in terms of approaching the innings even after we have lost a couple of wickets which wasn't the case to be honest because we did not have enough depth in the batting to play freely for about 10 to 12 overs, but I see much more positivity from this series onwards."

This might probably be one of the strongest squads that India has selected in recent years. And it has presented them with a selection dilemma (a headache albeit a good one).

After knocking on the selection door constantly, Suryakumar Yadav has finally broken it open with his consistent performances in the domestic arena and IPL. His temperament and ability to accelerate in all phases of the game stood out during the IPL and he could be the one who provides the added impetus, especially in the middle overs if selected. He continued his good form in the Vijay Hazare Trophy where he averaged 66.40 with a strike-rate of 151.59.

Senior pro Bhuvneshwar Kumar is back in the fold after an injury lay-off. All-rounder Rahul Tewatia who took IPL 2020 by storm with his performances for Rajasthan Royals has received his maiden international call-up and so has the flamboyant Ishan Kishan with his versatility and aggression which played a key role in Mumbai Indians lifting the IPL 2021 trophy.

Also back in the T20 fold is Rishabh Pant. His stellar performances in Australia and against England might in all probability mean that the KL Rahul-wicketkeeper experiment might be put on hold.

Pant's resurgence has injected much confidence in the Indian camp. From being criticised for his finishing to turning into a match-winner, the Delhi wicket-keeper batsman has scripted a fascinating turnaround. It's amazing what a change confidence can have on a player. He is riding that wave of massive self-confidence. And the Indian team management would like to give him continuity by selecting him for the T20Is as well.

His outrageous strokes in the Tests, including that of a reverse lap to the veteran pacer James Anderson, elicited awe in the cricketing world and he could well be the difference-maker in the series if he carries forward that momentum. This might mean that Kishan will be his back-up.

Another player riding the crest of a wave is Axar Patel after a stellar Test series debut against England. In the absence of Ravindra Jadeja, who is still injured, he provides the left-arm spin option along with accuracy and late-order hitting.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar hasn't played international cricket for about 15 months now, and he will look to find his groove and stake a claim amidst intense competition in the pace department. He will most likely spearhead the fast bowling department in absence of Jasprit Bumrah who is rested and Mohammed Shami who hasn't yet recovered from a hand injury he sustained in the Australia Test series.

Rahul Tewatia provides a power-hitting option lower down the order and wrist spin as well. While Varun Chakravarthy, who missed the Australian tour — his maiden international call-up — due to shoulder injury would have provided that mystery spin bowling option, he is reportedly set to miss the series after having failed fitness tests. There are doubts over the availability of Tewatia as well as T Natarajan.

There are multiple options for different positions and a lot of variety as well. The only certainties in the team might be Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya. While there is competition between Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul to stake a claim for the other opening slot, Kohli made it clear that Rahul will be the one preferred. Dhawan has historically performed well in the big tournaments and hasn't done much wrong while Rahul has been in the form of his life of late in the T20 format. This means that Shikhar will have to warm the benches for the most part.

"If Rohit plays, then it's simple. KL (Rahul) and Rohit have been performing consistently at the top of the order for us and those two will start," Kohli said ahead of the first T20I in Ahmedabad.

"In a situation, Rohit takes rest and KL has a niggle or something, Shikhi (Dhawan's nickname in team) obviously comes in as the third opener but the starting composition, Rohit and Rahul will be the ones who will start."

Kohli will in all probability bat one down. Shreyas Iyer hasn't done anything wrong at No 4 but will still face competition from Suryakumar. Rishabh will take the wicket-keeping spot and bat five while Hardik Pandya slots in at six. There are plenty of options in the spin and pace department as well. If they look to go in with three spinners then Washington Sundar, who's another youngster high on confidence, and Axar Patel might make it to the starting eleven along with Yuzvendra Chahal. Sundar and Axar provide batting depth. Tewatia and Chakravarthy are the other options if available.

In the absence of experience in the pace department, the likes of T Natarajan, Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur have done a good job of late. If India opt for two pacers then five of them will be battling for two spots. T Natarajan, if available, gives the left-arm dimension which makes his case stronger while Bhuvneshwar's experience might propel him to spearhead the attack. If India do decide to go in with three pacers, then Shardul Thakur could get a look in as he provides a handy option with the bat as well.

While playing in India, you always tend to lean towards the spin-heavy option, but it's interesting to note that since India's unbeaten streak started (3rd August 2019), their pacers have had the third-best average after Afghanistan, Australia - 23.43 - and a strike rate of 17.7- second best after Afghanistan who strike every 17.5 balls. And more surprisingly, they have outperformed their own spinners as well who have averaged 34.50 and have had a strike rate of 26.1. Both sets have had similar economy rates of 7.90 in the same period. In India, the pacers have even better numbers averaging 21.67 and striking every 16.5 balls with an economy rate of 7.84 while the spinners average 38.47 and possess a strike rate of 27.7 and economy rate of 8.32.

It won't be an exaggeration to say that India can make two strong teams out of the pool of players available and both can challenge the best in the world. It will be interesting to see if India carry out the experiment throughout the series, or only after they manage to win it early.

England's aggressive and fearless brand of cricket, which has made them so successful in the white-ball formats, will be on show again. They have an explosive batting line-up with the likes of Jos Buttler, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes, and Jason Roy. They have a No 1 ranked T20I batsman in the form of Dawid Malan in their ranks who is in form of his life and is the highest run-getter for England since he made his debut in T20s in June 2017. He's averaged 53.43 since then. Overall this formidable English batting line-up has had seven players averaging over 30 since their unbeaten series run started from October 2018. England have had the best strike-rate — 146.47 — in T20Is (Among Test playing nations) since that unbeaten run while India are third at 136.35.

In the bowling department, they have the much-improved Adil Rashid who is fifth in T20I bowling rankings and Chris Jordan (12th) who have been their top two wicket-takers in T20Is since their unbeaten run. This English team has the experience and flair. And crucially, 13 out of the 16 men in the squad have had the experience of playing in the Indian Premier League.

Morgan has insisted on the importance of getting "our strongest team on the park as often as we can" in the lead up to the World Cup. He's got a full strength squad against India and this will form a build-up strategy for Morgan as well to define roles and combinations.

Two unbeaten runs will be on the line in Ahmedabad where all five T20Is will be played. If India win a minimum of four matches, they will leapfrog England to No 1 in the T20I rankings. The last time England were beaten in a T20I series was way back in July 2018 and the team that beat them were India in their own backyard. Can they snap the English unbeaten run and climb up the ranking ladder or will England stand up to wrest control and win the second leg of the tour and maintain their ascendency in T20Is?

Whatever the result, Ahmedabad and the cricketing world are in for a cracker of a series.

Updated Date: March 11, 2021 20:21:57 IST

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