India v England - ODI series preview - Chetan Narula
Matches played on 14th, 17th, 20th, 23rd and 25th October
To just pretend that England’s five match ODI series (plus one T20I) in India is a low-stake round would be very easy. After all, the visitors have had an awesome summer and the hosts have only continued to get tired, jaded even with the rigours of Champions League T20.
After a continuous avalanche of cricket, it almost seems cumbersome to stir up again, when only less than a month ago MS Dhoni’s boys were getting pummelled in the British Isles.
Yet the crowds will stir up in Hyderabad on Friday because the advent of a new season (technically) brings with it some renewed vigour. Let one try to infuse some positives here. As bizarre as it may sound, the reigning world champions will play at home for the first time since lifting that gold-plated trophy six months ago. Winning the World Cup at home might not have been exemplary in the eyes of the rest of the globe, and the English tour certainly didn’t shield any weaknesses. But that is the thing about playing at home, especially for India. It always gives this team an extra flight to their steps.
How else can anyone explain that a ridiculous bowling attack, hinged on a fast bowler accustomed to breaking down, won the World Cup? And that the same batting order, looking frail until recently, was unbeatable in the first quarter of the year?
Yes there were some additional names therein. Yuvraj Singh hasn’t played since his man-of-the-tournament moments, Sachin Tendulkar has been a shadow of himself after winning that elusive trophy, Virender Sehwag alone knows what is up with his injuries and no one knows where the real Harbhajan Singh is hiding. These names will still be missing when Dhoni walks out for the toss next time, yet coping will somehow be easier.
It is because the boundaries will be smaller, roped pulled back in so a lowly-hit boundary actually has a chance to go all the way. The tracks will afford more spin and wear down as the match progresses; not many visiting teams like that.
More than anything the crowd will be behind their heroes, egging them on for some payback, perhaps fired only by the agony they were put through during the summer. Indeed it may be hypocritical to talk up the ODI champions in this manner. Didn’t India turn a corner in the past decade doing well away from home? The more things change, the more they stay the same it seems.
So the question to ask is, will beating England be easier now? Statistics would agree, after all the last time India did win against this opposition was at home, back in 2008. Yes it has been three years, that long. It matters only when everything that has happened since is integrated into one equation. And it matters not in the pursuit of a new beginning.
Herein though lays the problem. Are the Indians fresh enough to begin a new campaign, one that sees them tour Australia and probably entertain Pakistan in some part of the world later on?
In complete contrast is the squad led by Alastair Cook. They have had an indulgent summer of cricket, yet somehow this team doesn’t bear a tired look about it. Winning gives you that energy but so does player rotation when decided objectively by the powers that be.
The only difference between this squad and the one that beat India at home is the absence of a couple of regulars, either due to injury or just some well-earned rest. Through careful practice, Jonny Bairstow, Scott Borthwick and Alex Hales get a chance. Steve Finn and Jade Dernbach get to play on sub-continental pitches.
Why is it important for England to do this and with some success? Quite simply, the Test number one side is the same crossroads India were at a year ago. They had to play South Africa, England and Australia away from home, all in less than twelve months, and look how quickly their castle crashed. Next year this time around, England will be back here for a four-Test series.
Before that they would have played Sri Lanka and Pakistan, both away encounters. It is a schedule that could easily upset their rankings. In that sense, sending in youngsters now allows them to prepare for sterner battles ahead, a case of making their player pool large enough to choose from. Something India failed to do and paid a heavy price.
And then there is an added angle, that of DRS and the new ICC rules coming in. It was clear that usage of DRS, after a questionable experience in the summer, would be unfit. And that the mandatory tag has been lifted will again be seen as a BCCI motive. It would be interesting to watch how the complexion of the balance between these two teams changes, now that this external factor has been taken out.
Simultaneously, the experimentation with new ODI rules will have a blood test. New balls from both ends, abolishing the concept of runners and mandating power-plays is all very good. But the script becomes murky when conditions like dewy outfield or slow tracks, cloud cover etc. conspire to favour just one side. Losing this ODI series will only be a small dent in that roadmap for Andy Flower’s bunch. For India the stakes are a only little higher.
© Cricket World 2011