We are halfway through January, which means we are within kissing distance of the first match of the much awaited India vs England ODI series. Kicking off on a Sunday, the first match will be played in Pune.
While most fans would expect India to cruise through the series, others feel that England have a fairly good chance too. Significantly, this will be the final ODI series for India before the Champions Trophy which will be played on England’s home turf. It could be a final chance for Virat Kohli’s India to work out where they stand.
With less than two days to go for the match, here is an analysis of what could be potential talking points going into the first game.
One of the biggest questions would be regarding India’s middle order. A returning Yuvraj would certainly want his number 4 spot, but as we saw in the 3rd ODI against New Zealand, MS Dhoni looks keen on making the spot his own. MSD has been very vocal about taking over the number 4 spot, and the 91-ball 80 against the Kiwis justifies this. However, he did fail to rack up the numbers in the next two matches of the series, which makes it likely that he may be asked to move down.
Even Manish Pandey seems to be eyeing the prestigious number 4 spot, having put up impressive performances in previous games. While the new ODI skipper Virat Kohli has some crucial decisions to make, it is likely that we’ll see Yuvraj Singh come in at the number 4 spot, with MSD playing at 5 and Pandey at 6.
Yuvraj has been in and out of the Indian squad for a while now, and his last ODI game for India was back in 2013. He has had constant fitness issues since his comeback in 2012, and is still to find his feet since returning from his life-threatening Cancer scare. There is no denying that picking him in the national squad solely based on his success on the domestic (first-class) circuit is a controversial decision; but whether it was a reasonable gamble or not, we shall only know after the series.
MS Dhoni is in a rather similar boat as Yuvraj. It is a well-voiced fact that his performances have gone to the dogs over the last few years. Dhoni relieved himself from the duties of captaincy, and we could look forward to seeing the ‘Mahi of the old’.
Hitting the reset button could be another masterstroke by Captain Cool, and if he can truly bring back the magic, then England are in for trouble.
Alex Hales, Eoin Morgan and Joe Root will all be returning to the national squad after not playing the series in Bangladesh and the warm up matches respectively. Alex Hales is one of the best openers currently playing the game, and he is capable of destroying any bowling order on his day. He isn’t in the best form at the moment, but if he gets going, he will be the one to watch.
Joe Root just had a son earlier this week, and flew home after the Test series to spend time with his family. He has already returned to India though, and is expected to be a part of the 11 men who will look to steal a victory. Root is by far the best English batsman today, and is placed at number 7 in the ICC Batsmen Rankings. His success will be crucial for his team, and a solid partnership between him and one of the openers could help build the foundation for England’s destructive middle order to capitalize on.
The English middle order is everything you want it to be and more. Morgan, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler comprise of one of the most dominant middle orders in the game today, and each one of them can individually win a game for their team. Captain Morgan, as one of the most versatile players on the squad, will have a vital role to play. Should England lose a couple of wickets early, he will need to stabilize the innings, and slow down the pace of the game, before allowing Buttler and Stokes to come in later and smash the ball around. On the other hand, should Root and Hales get off to a good start, and play deep into the innings, Morgan’s role will be to come in and boost the run rate, and he will have to play aggressively, something we know he is capable of doing.
As far as the game is concerned, the team winning the toss should probably chose to chase, unless the pitch conditions strongly suggest otherwise. The MCA stadium at Gahunje, Pune, can be unpredictable, and chasing is probably the safer option. Expect the spinners to dominate the game, with 250 being the predicted score. While both teams have their ups and downs, the Indian unit looks slightly stronger than their British counterparts, which is why one can expect them to take the lead in the 3 match series. Before concluding, here are the predicted line-ups for both the teams.
England : Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan (C), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wk), Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Jake Ball, Liam Plunkett, David Willey
India : K.L. Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (C), Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (wk), Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah
Alternate possibilities : Chris Woakes in for Liam Plunkett/David Willey to add further depth in the English batting lineup. Ajinkya Rahane may come in for Shikhar Dhawan given his current form. Kedar Jadhav or even Amit Mishra may come in for Hardik Pandya, if the pitch is spin friendly.
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