As India celebrates its 68th Republic Day, the Indian cricket team will be hoping to make the nation proud by getting off to a winning start in the three-match T20I series against England at Kanpur.
On a day when most citizens will be enjoying their off, the Indian team will slog it out for a little over three hours at Kanpur's Green Park, looking to maintain their stranglehold over the Englishmen in the tour so far.
The fight from the visitors though, will be a different, slightly tougher one. Eoin Morgan and company are, after all, entering the last leg of their gruelling tour of the subcontinental giant on a high after pulling off a thrilling consolatory win in the third ODI at Eden Gardens just four days ago.
A win such as that — at the same venue where they suffered one of their most heart-breaking losses in recent history — can do wonders to boost one's confidence, and Captain Morgan will be more pumped than ever with the prospect of lifting at least one trophy before taking the flight back home.
"At the moment, the guys are feeling a lot more confident than they were after game two. Having had a win under our belt, we are looking forward to the three-match T20 series in what could potentially be very exciting," were Morgan's words ahead of the series opener.
However, England's upbeat state of mind does not take the 'favourites' tag away from the hosts, even if they are without the perennially-dependent duo of spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. The duo were at their destructive best in the Tests, and got key breakthroughs in the one-dayers, even if they leaked a little more runs than expected. Their vacancies, however, has opened up a host of opportunities for those overlooked in the previous games.
Amit Mishra, who recorded impressive figures of 5/18 in the fifth ODI against New Zealand, one that helped trigger a sensational batting collapse, will likely return to the side after not getting a chance in any of the one-dayers against England. Keeping the difference of format in mind, the England T20Is would perhaps be a chance for Mishra to get the national selectors' attention with the upcoming Champions Trophy in mind.
Among the other spinners in the fray likely to get a chance is young Pervez Rasool, fresh from an above-par outing in the recent Ranji Trophy, in which he finished as the seventh-highest wicket-taker. Even though the 27-year-old — the first to represent the Kashmir valley in Team India — has a total international experience of just one ODI, the wickets of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler in the recent warm-up game will serve as a major confidence booster for him.
The 20-over format will see the return of veteran pacer Ashish Nehra, who has had a successful run since making an international comeback in the tour of Australia around this time a year ago. The toss-up for the hosts, however, will come down to picking the other front-line pacer between Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, with the former's track record of firing one yorker after another in the death overs making him a likely candidate.
While the Indian batting line-up did a fairly good job in the recent one-dayers, the opening combination remains a major source of worry, given how it has been malfunctioning in recent times. The addition of young wicket-keeper batsman Rishabh Pant in the squad, however, gives the team think-tank hope of getting that part right.
Pant has put the willow to sensational use in recent ventures, be it the ICC U-19 World Cup last year, the Ranji Trophy (where he hammered the fastest-ever ton) or in the DY Patil T20 tournament. Add his blistering 36-ball 59 in the recent warm-up game against a fairly similar English attack means that he is almost certain to make it to the playing eleven.
Going back to the English camp, the skipper would be a relieved man to hear of Joe Root regaining fitness after missing out in the third ODI due to a niggle. Root was in terrific form, ending up as the highest run-getter in the Tests after Virat Kohli, and scored a half-century in each ODI that he played. He is currently the only batsman to have hit a fifty-plus score in every game that he has played in this tour so far, and will look to be the backbone of the English batting order in the 20-over format as well.
The exit of Alex Hales due to an injury to his right hand does little to hurt England's chances, given his lack of form, and the excess of that of his opening partner Jason Roy. Sam Billings is expected to continue at the top of the order alongside Roy, who has taken a liking to beating the Indian pacers to pulp in their first spell of the innings. Jonny Bairstow, drafted in as the replacement, will continue to bat in the middle-order purely as a batsman.
The other big change confirmed ahead of the series opener was that of David Willey, who will miss out on the first game due to shoulder issues, that saw him leave the field at the Eden Gardens after bowling just a couple of overs.
Disappointing as it may be for him, given his wicket-taking ability in the early overs of the innings, it will come as a source of hope for uncapped T20 specialist Tymal Mills, who has made his mark in various 20-over franchise-based leagues around the world. His pace, which can touch 90mph at times, didn't seem to bother opposition captain and batting sensation Virat Kohli, who shrugged the challenge off by reminding everyone that he had faced such fast deliveries before.
The Green Park track has been known to be devoid of life, making it a paradise for batsmen. The 50-over series was heavily lopsided in favour of batsmen, with only the Kolkata track offering some support to the pacers. Expect no different as far as this game is concerned, including the dew factor that could serve as a crucial factor at toss.
India: Virat Kohli (c), Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chalal, MS Dhoni (wk), Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mandeep Singh, Amit Mishra, Ashish Nehra, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant, Pervez Rasool, KL Rahul, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh.
England: Eoin Morgan (c), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler (wk), Liam Dawson, Chris Jordan, Tymal Mills, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willey.
Time: 16:30 IST | 11:00 GMT
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Updated Date: Jan 26, 2017 09:13:10 IST