England-India ODI series preview

Tomorrow England take on India in the first of seven ODIs to be played over the course of more than two weeks. It is a series to which the teams have taken contrasting approaches: England, as in 2003, have drawn a line under an unsuccessful World Cup and left-out players thought to have no chance of reaching the next Cup, in 2011. India, who fared even worse than their hosts in the Caribbean, have refused to allow the ODI careers of the likes of Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar to end on such a note, and who knows, maybe all three – ODI greats each – will still be churning out the runs in four years’ time.

The retention of these three key batsmen means India have, at the current time, overwhelmingly the superior line-up: with Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Dhoni and one of Robin Uthappa or Gautam Gambhir completing an intimidating top-six (Sachin Tendulkar is likely to take his favoured slot at the top of the order, meaning Uthappa or Gambhir, both opening batsmen by nature, would be forced to come in at first-drop) England’s bowlers will need to be at the top of their game. In Zaheer Khan, Rutra Pratap Singh, S Sreesanth and Ajit Agarkar the Indian seam-attack retains the potential to cause problems, despite two collectively poor games in the run-up. Piyush Chawla and Ramesh Powar provide the spin options, Harbhajan Singh having been omitted once more.

England have infinitely less experience and, far more importantly, less proven class. Kevin Pietersen remains a standout by not merely head and shoulders but, with Marcus Trescothick still missing, torso too. Andrew Flintoff’s return for his first international cricket of the summer, however, provides a boost to the bowling. In the summer’s previous series against West Indies, and indeed more often than not since that 2003 World Cup, England completely lacked bowlers with proven control, especially at the death.

In that West Indies series, even with the men from the Caribbean having holes aplenty in their batting-order, England still conceded large totals. Dimitri Mascarenhas made a promising start to his ODI career, but without Flintoff the reasonably good work from the middle overs was usually undone by bowling at the end which often verged on the woeful. For all Stuart Broad’s promise his record in one-day cricket remains moderate so far; Monty Panesar has not yet demonstrated any extraordinary skill – or nous – at bowling in the shorter game (to date the likes of Ian Blackwell and even Jamie Dalrymple and Michael Yardy’s performances have been superior); and James Anderson is still James Anderson, capable of the brilliant and the terrible, with barely a moment’s notice of which is coming. On the back of a relatively impressive showing in the Test arena, Chris Tremlett is drafted straight back into the ODI side (despite very poor returns so far), exactly as Matthew Prior and Ryan Sidebottom were (unsuccessfully) following the West Indies Tests.

With the bat, Ravinder Bopara returns after missing the West Indies series through injury and is expected to bat as low as seven in the opening game, with Owais Shah moving to three and Ian Bell to open, meaning Alastair Cook’s foray into ODIs is halted once more. Matthew Prior will continue to open (so far averaging under 24 there from 12 innings against serious opposition), meaning an opening pair once more contains no specialist (Ed Joyce and Mal Loye having been recently tried unsuccessfully in such a role). Sidebottom, who retains his place in the squad, will miss the opener with a side-strain.

The scheduling at least means there will be an element of uncertainty: the agreement between the BCCI and ECB meant that this tour would mirror England’s to India in early 2006. This means the longest ever bilateral series in England. The seven games thus offer the possibility of a thrilling to-the-end rally such as India and West Indies played-out in 20023, or that these two same countries managed in their six in 20012. However, it also offers the possibility of a one-sided contest such as the aforementioned 20056 series. For most intents and purposes it would perhaps have been better for England’s 10 ODIs this summer to have been split evenly between the two touring teams. The recognition – also demonstrated last summer – that daynight games are virtually pointless in June in England means that evening dew exerting an influence (in a summer which has already seen the ball swing far more than any time since 2000) cannot be ruled-out in the first, second and fourth games either. The weather to date in 2007 would also suggest a high likelihood of interruptions at some point, although often the only predictable thing about the English weather, as well as its ODI cricket team, is unpredictability, and two weeks of sunshine across the country can be ruled-out with as much confidence as the team dominating the series.

England ODI Squad
Paul Collingwood (captain), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Andrew Flintoff, Dimitri Mascarenhas, Monty Panesar, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior (wicket-keeper), Owais Shah, Ryan Sidebottom, Chris Tremlett

India ODI Squad
Rahul Dravid (captain), MS Dhoni (wicket-keeper), Ajit Agarkar, Gautam Gambhir, Sourav Ganguly, Dinesh Karthik, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, Piyush Chawla, Ramesh Powar, Rohit Sharma, Rudra Pratap Singh, Sachin Tendulkar, Robin Uthappa, Yuvraj Singh

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