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All eyes on Nehra, Raina as slam-bang continues

Wisden India logo Wisden India 26-01-2017

The confluence of one of India’s largest cantonments and the local community on the bank of the river Ganga makes Kanpur a vibrant and chaotic city. Expect chaos at Green Park when it hosts its first-ever Twenty20 International, between India and England, on Thursday (January 26) on a pitch that looks to be batting-friendly.

Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, was amazed at the commercial potential that is available to be tapped in India’s tier-2 cities when he was part of a packed house for an Indian Premier League game last year. A similar atmosphere is expected as Virat Kohli prepares to make his debut as T20I captain. That the match will start at 4.30 pm to negate the effect of dew has not proved to be a dampener because Thursday is India’s Republic Day. But purely from a cricketing perspective, there is a bigger question looming in the background.

Full coverage: India vs England Series 

India played a total of 13 Twenty20 Internationals as preparation for the World T20 at home last year, where they qualified for the semifinals. A similarly pragmatic approach would have meant India played more One-Day Internationals than just three in the recently concluded series against England, which they won 2-1, building up to their defence of the Champions Trophy later this year. Mickey Arthur, the Pakistan coach, recently questioned the relevance of bilateral T20I series. The question is even more pertinent when the next World T20 is in 2020, unless the International Cricket Council formalise one in 2018.

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The big picture, however, is the last thing on the minds of the players. Ashish Nehra would be eager to prove his fitness in his first international after knee surgery. He looked sharp during the centre-pitch practice session, where he executed his yorkers well and hit the stumps regularly. Similarly, this series is an opportunity for Suresh Raina to resurrect his career as much as it is a chance for Yuvraj Singh to get more game time before travelling to England.

KL Rahul would want to settle the opening debate in limited-overs cricket once for all, even as Mandeep Singh and Rishabh Pant eye a window at the top of the order. With R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja rested, the three matches are also a good chance for Amit Mishra, Parveez Rasool and Yuzvendra Chahal to tick a few key boxes in the spin department.

In a nutshell, the series could be a primer for India’s bench strength beyond the Champions Trophy. “We’ve got in quite a few youngsters now who we want to groom with the senior guys in the team,” Kohli said. “Eventually, the idea is to groom them enough to give them confidence from here on and then maybe push them to the ODIs and then give more confidence and then from thereon have that gradual progress draft for them to get them to the highest level which is Test cricket.

“But it’s very important to back them enough in T20 cricket, get some confidence behind you and then extend your career graph. The vision has to be that, you have to understand that even me or anyone can’t play forever, so you need to understand who are the guys who are going to slowly blend in and take Indian cricket forward. That has to be kept in mind all the time.”

Watch: Kohli wants to give out of form openers time

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Even as he is eyeing grooming youngsters, Kohli was absolutely sure that dominating England would remain the theme, as was the case in the Test and ODI series.

“We definitely want to play more expressive cricket, play more positively than in the past and not worry about the result much,” he said. “In this format, you need to go out there and show your true potential. Just how explosive we can be, like we do in the IPL. Somewhere in the international stage, there is a bit of hesitation, that extra bit of pressure that comes with playing for the country. This format allows you to get rid of that and really express yourself and the skills you have to the best of your potential.”

India’s T20I squad looks slightly different from the one that won the ODI series and the team composition is difficult to guess right now, but England have a similar unit. Eoin Morgan felt that his team could use this opportunity to get a few things rolling their way before the Champions Trophy.

“I think what we are seeing nowadays is that actually your 50-over team is pretty much identical to your T20 team. And the same risk level and skill level you have to show in both formats is pretty evident,” Morgan said. “Before the 2015 World Cup, you might have had three-four changes between two groups.”

Morgan also confirmed that Joe Root, who was rested for the third ODI because of a niggle, was available for selection.

The last time Root batted in the shortest format in India was in the World T20, where he took England to the final with 249 runs in six matches at a strike-rate of 146.47. England dominated the entire tournament till that last over from Ben Stokes to Carlos Brathwaite in the final at Eden Gardens.

Stokes exorcised the Eden demons recently, but England would like to make it sweeter with a series win.

Teams (from):

India: KL Rahul, Mandeep Singh, Virat Kohli (capt), Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (wk), Suresh Raina, Hardik Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (wk), Parveez Rasool, Amit Mishra.

England: Sam Billings, Jason Roy, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan (capt), Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Jos Buttler (wk), Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Chris Jordan, Liam Dawson, Liam Plunkett, Tymal Mills, Adil Rashid, David Willey.

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