Thanks to a curious hand played by fate, India and England are looking ahead to this five-match ODI series in a near-similar manner. Starting over is the term we are looking for, and despite the obvious differences in their build-up to this clash, both MS Dhoni and Alastair Cook will be desperate to move on. Chetan Narula previews the series.
The Indian skipper would want to forget the anguish that this tour has laid at his doorstep. They have won just the three limited-overs practice matches, two of them affected by rain. No First-Class games were competitive enough and the lesser said about the Test series, the better. In fact such has been their woeful form that they have been reduced to mere starters from the champion side that had landed in the British Isles, nearly six weeks ago. The Test mace is gone and with it some hard-built reputation, but the grace of this game allows them one last shot.
The Men in Blue are still the ODI champions, thanks to that superlative victory not four months ago. It is almost scepticism that comes across on one’s part, using the tag of champions for India herein. The last time this was so unabashedly beaten round the bush Andrew Strauss’ team managed to pull down their pants for the whole world to see and it wasn’t a tasteful sight. It is a shuddering thought lest that happens again, although Indian fans can breathe a little easy. England are not the same ODI side as they are a world-beating Test outfit.
You only have to look at their last Ashes sojourn; triumphing in the historical contest, making some history of their own, but cowering out in the ODIs and by some margin. No one remembers that trouncing, much to their public convenience, though one doubts that is the case with the ECB. The changes made after the World Cup losses, splitting the captaincy three-way, shows there are enough people in their set-up who care. And so, India cannot take them lightly. In fact, let one rephrase that last sentence a bit – they better not.
Truth be told, back home, the knives aren’t out just yet but they are being sharpened in silence. Only earlier this past week, there were hushed rumours about a couple of selectors willing to step down and shoulder blame for the Tests’ debacle. Even if that didn’t happen, it is pretty obvious heads will roll if a repeat performance comes about. And the slew of changes made, some cynical and others not so much, only confirms the same. In this inadvertent upping of the stakes, the question that comes to mind is which of the two sides is better equipped to handle the pressure?
Considering Sachin Tendulkar opens the batting for India and there’s not a cricketer more experienced than him in this arena, with Rahul Dravid to follow, you can say it’s loaded in India’s favour. But as the latter showed, one man can’t do it alone and such numbers don’t matter when the opposition is really fired up. Another wait for the 100th hundred aside, much will still depend on how the young guns rally up for Dhoni, especially in the absence of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh. Ajinkya Rahane showed more character in handling alien conditions in just one T20 innings than what Suresh Raina did in the entire Test series, so that bodes well for a new opening partnership at the top. But Raina will play as will Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, though the larger issue is none of them can bowl ten overs per match.
Hence Yuvraj will be missed and desperately, if the T20 pitches from the past week’s cricket in England are any indicators. R Ashwin leads a bowling attack for the first time and missing out on crucial support will only hinder his cause. This is where the battle is expected to turn. Come what may, the home side will play three fast bowlers, including Stuart Broad who bats quite a bit. Add Graeme Swann and Samit Patel to that equation, suddenly Alastair Cook begins to look like Strauss ahead of the Test series – all cocky. Having said that, missing Kevin Pietersen isn’t going to help and much onus will be on Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott and the young Eoin Morgan.
As the battle draws closer, India will do well to forget about the World Cup victory, and try to start over. It will only help them for past laurels didn’t help previously on this tour, and the challenges remain, if they haven’t gotten any bigger. After all, Andy Flower has so vividly described what his next intentions are – to do well in ODIs, with a firm target painted on the 2015 World Cup. It is a process that can be kick-started now, against the reigning champions. Déjà vu, anyone?
© Cricket World 2011