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Series on the line, England scramble for first win against confident India

Wisden India logo Wisden India 19-01-2017

It has been a norm in the series so far. Irrespective of the toss, and whether England put up a good batting show or bowl well, they’ve been left battered and bruised each time. A change in format, a different leader and a rejigged unit had little bearing on their fortunes in India.

England have been on top of their limited-overs game since their premature exit in 2015 World Cup. But, on Sunday (January 15), they had no place to hide when their bowlers failed to defend 350, their highest One-Day International score in India, despite having India 63 for 4 in the first match in Pune.

As if there wasn’t enough pressure already to turn things around after the 4-0 Test drubbing, England, down 0-1 in the three-match series, now find themselves in a must-win situation in the second ODI in Cuttack on Thursday.

A hard and even batting beauty in Pune allowed batsmen from both sides to go hard at the bowling, and 706 runs were amassed. The pitch at the Barabati stadium is also expected to be a batting delight, but the local authorities have backed the black-soil based approach, so that could lead to variable or low bounce.

To suggest that this will worry the two teams, however, would be stretching things. India have a batting line-up replete with talented stroke-makers, and England bat deep, all the way to No. 8. From India’s perspective, death bowling woes continued to haunt the side.

The issue was a thorn throughout Dhoni’s tenure at the helm, and Virat Kohli, India’s new captain, will have to address it soon. In Pune, India conceded 105 runs in the last eight overs, with only Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja going for less than 5.5 an over. While Jasprit Bumrah had rare off day on Sunday, conceding 53 off his last five overs, he is still Kohli’s best bet to contain runs in the slog overs.

India’s come-from-behind win, sealed by Kohli and Kedar Jadhav’s 200-run fifth-wicket association, also highlighted India’s opening frailties. Shikhar Dhawan’s ODI slump will be adding to his woes, especially after losing his spot in the other two formats. Chasing 350 in an ODI is always tough, but Dhawan did himself no favours during his patchy ten-ball stay at the crease. Yet, there are no knee-jerk reactions expected from Kohli, and Dhawan could still get a chance to prove a point.

Jadhav, meanwhile, had a chance to showcase his Dhoni-esque finishing skills. Kohli’s ability in run chases is undisputed, but it was Jadhav’s mesmeric effort and Pandya holding his nerve in the end that gave India’s lower-middle order the belief that they could pull of an improbable chase.

India’s concerns, however, are not as grave as England’s. Although Jason Roy, Joe Root and Ben Stokes took England to their highest ODI score against India, Eoin Morgan’s recent limited-overs form has left a lot to be desired. Add to that Alex Hales’s inconsistencies at the top – the opener, who opted out of the Bangladesh tour, has scored just 8, 23 and 9 after his record 171 against Pakistan six months ago.

Putting runs on the board and then stopping the flow of runs after getting early wickets is just not enough to stop the Indian juggernaut from rolling on, and England’s bowlers realised it the hard way on Sunday. They will have to go for the kill, get wickets upfront, without letting the opposition off the hook at any point.

In Cuttack, especially with dew likely to play a part , bowlers, spinners especially, will almost be taken out of the equation in the second half. Their task becomes one of ensuring that the opposition does not run away with the game, rather than genuinely attacking and looking to bowl teams out.

This could tempt England to opt for an extra pacer in Liam Plunkett instead of Adil Rashid, the legspinner; even Liam Dawson, the left-arm spinner, could get a look in. Taken to the cleaners by Kohli and Jadhav, Rashid gave away 50 runs in his five overs.

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The unavailability of hotel rooms forced both the teams to extend their stay in Pune by a day, travelling to Cuttack a day prior to the game. Despite that, both the teams practised briefly under lights on Wednesday.

In the last ODI at this venue, India had cantered to a 169-run win over Sri Lanka after posting 363 for 5 in November 2014. Both Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane had scored a century, while Kohli led the side in Dhoni’s absence. India would certainly hope for an encore to correct their up-and-down run in ODIs.

Squads:

India: Virat Kohli (capt), Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Yuvraj Singh, Ajinkya Rahane, Hardik Pandya, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav.

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

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