Battle of the captains: India-England ODIs, a Preview
Amidst all the hullabaloo of punches and counter-punches between the Indian and Aussie cricketers, and not to forget the media and publishing houses alike, one could be forgiven for losing track of the forthcoming ODIs between India and England. A rather long and arduous, seven-game series that would cover the length and breadth of the country begins with the first match at Rajkot.
Not only the audiences, but it would also be a rather stiff task for both the teams to put their blinkers and blinders on, and focus on the task on hand after a rather distracting last couple of weeks or so.
India is coming off a very draining four test match series against the world champions, Australia, and while the 2-0 rout should breed the momentum into this rather low-profile limited overs tournament, the off-the-field antics would have obviously taken their minds off the task on hand. Harbhajan Singh has been involved in a war-of-words with anyone remotely resembling an Australian, while Gautam Gambhir has made it clear that he felt no remorse in ensuring that his elbow had been shoved into the Shane Watson tummy. One must also not forget the high that the Indian team would be on an unprecedented high from having just beaten the best team in the world without breaking the proverbial sweat.
England, on the other hand would have found it a trifle difficult to take their minds off the pot of dollars – called Stanford T20 for 20 – that just slipped off their fingers at Antigua. The ECB was shown in a not-so-altruistic light, while some of the English players were only keen to pull their wives and girl-friends out of the tournament and fly back home. Some were even concerned about the lack of preparation for the series in India, as they clearly did not think too highly about the competition at Antigua. Not only was that winner-takes-it-all match lost, so was also the tour game against a third string Mumbai team, as they crashed to 98 all out.
Having said that, the two men who matter the most, the two skippers, Dhoni and Pietersen, have shown to be great leaders of men, shrewd and tactical, and that is where the series could turn very exciting. Pietersen had taken over the reigns from a beleaguered Paul Collingwood, and the difference was immediately there to be seen. Dhoni, on the other hand, has grown with this side right from the time, the trio of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid decided to give the ICC World T20 a slip and the captaincy was handed over to him.
Coming into the series, both the teams have had fitness woes, and in the end, would lose out on a personnel each. Ishant Sharma, the player-of-the-series of the Border-Gavaskar series has had an ankle problem and Ryan Sidebottom has yet to recover from his injury woes. However, apart from the duo, the rest of the teams select themselves, and England have gone ahead and done just that for the first encounter.
India, on the other hand, would deliberate with the team composition, especially with the bowling line-up, a little more than usual. In fact, even with a fit Ishant, the Indians would know that the English have a purported weakness against the ball that turns and wouldn’t be shy of getting in extra spinner into the side on pitches that should be shorn of any grass.
Batting is the one area in which it gets even more exhilarating, with both the sides having enough fire-power to challenge the boundary hoardings on a consistent basis. For India, Virender Sehwag – now the vice-captain – and Gambhir have shown an almost pirate-like tendency to loot runs, while the middle order gets propped by some highly talented individuals like Suresh Raina – of the record man-of-the-match fame – and Rohit Sharma to shore up the batting. Yuvraj Singh may not be in the best of touches – both at international and domestic level – but one must remember that he had been the destroyer-in-chief in the T20 match against England. His average jumps up like an excited ECG machine on playing against the English, by almost nine runs every inning. However, apart from the captain himself, the one player to look forward to would be Yusuf Pathan. Pathan had been drafted into the ODI team after a mesmerizing run at the Ranji trophy last year, which was followed up by the grand success at the IPL. He did not exactly set the stands on fire in his first few stints at the crease, but one has no doubt in the mind that he is the man to look out for the future.
Sachin Tendulkar has been rested from the squad in the first three ODIs, but he should make his appearance for the next four. With so much of cricket being played in this day and age, it makes absolute sense for a senior cricketer to pick and choose his series, to ensure that his body has fully recovered from the slight niggles that he has acquired over time.
England would heavily rely on their skipper Pietersen, but the one advantage that it has is their rather longish batting order. With a rather sensible batsman in Stuart Broad jutting out at the number nine position, India would have its work cut-out. The all-rounders to the tune of Andrew Flintoff, Collingwood and Ravindra Bopara could perform the role of both, stabilising the middle order in case of any early jerks, but could also take on the bowling when desired. Flintoff’s century in one of the tour games would have got his confidence back, and England would hope that he remains fit through out the series.
Where the tourists may lack is the spinners’ department, and though the likes of Samit Patel and Graeme Swann do lend a neat balance to the side, they would have to exhibit enough mental toughness – apart from the most obvious parameter, skill – to get the better of most Indian batsmen. Here, Pietersen’s role as a captain would come handy, as he would look to get his spinners on at times when the batsmen are relatively a little more suspect against the slow bowlers than the quicker men.
The gut feel says that India should be favourites to clinch this series, however, one certainly believes that this would be a lot closer than the 5-1 drubbing that England had received on their trip to this country.
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