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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

England v India talking points: 2019 World Cup hosts pass the acid test

Chitrabhanu Kadalayil highlights the main talking points from the recently-concluded ODI series, which England won 2-1

England's Mark Wood celebrates taking the wicket of India's Hardik Pandya during the eight-wicket win at Headingley that secured England the ODI series 2-1. Reuters
England's Mark Wood celebrates taking the wicket of India's Hardik Pandya during the eight-wicket win at Headingley that secured England the ODI series 2-1. Reuters

Morale-booster for England, reality check for India

Only a few months ago, this writer had explained why England and India were front-runners for the 2019 World Cup. The conclusion was drawn from recent form, head-to-head records and the core competencies of the respective sides.

It is for good reason why the three-match one-day international series between two of the top-ranked teams in the 50-over format had been billed as some sort of acid test.

A 2-1 series win later, it is safe to say England have passed the test while India have come up short. And it is not simply because of the fact that England won, but how they won.

After crushing the hosts in the first one-dayer at Trent Bridge by eight wickets with nearly 10 overs to spare, there were expectations India had this in the bag. But a brilliant turnaround in the next two matches - engineered by Joe Root and the bowlers - saw England win by 86 runs at Lord's and eight wickets at Headingley.

It demonstrated the home team's self-confidence to be able to rebound in the face of adversity. Also on show was an old tendency for India to wilt under pressure, especially when their top order fail to fire.

Victory will give England confidence and much-needed intelligence ahead of the World Cup which will be played at home in less than a year's time. For India, it's a return to the drawing board. This defeat will sting more than others.

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Read more:

'Clinical' England have laid down a marker for the 2019 World Cup

India have time to sort out middle-order for 2019 World Cup, says Sanjay Bangar

Joe Root urges England to remain 'ruthless' against India

Eoin Morgan says England will need to play 'close to' perfect against India in ODI series

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India's middle-order batting woes a full-blown crisis

For the past three years India have relied excessively on their top three batsmen.

Openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have welded together one of the most successful opening partnerships in this format, the top order made even more formidable by Virat Kohli's presence at No 3. The 21,008 runs they scored between them, including 66 hundreds and 107 fifties, have provided the backbone for many a victory since January 2015.

But for every yin there is a yang, and India's middle order has been its weakest link since even before the last World Cup was staged. Numbers 4, 5, 6 and 7 have seen many combinations since 2013, which was around the time the powers of Yuvraj Singh began to wane.

The increasingly obvious struggles of the ageing MS Dhoni, famous for scoring quick runs and artfully rotating the strike, culminated in boos from supporters at Lord's and left some sections of the media to speculate whether the erstwhile darling of Indian cricket will retire.

Captain Kohli and batting coach Sanjay Bangar have both acknowledged the need to give the batting order a relook. Rather than try the already tested players, perhaps it is time to give youngsters a go?

There is still time, but Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant should not be made to wait in the wings any longer.

India's Umesh Radav is far from the finished article. Reuters
India's Umesh Radav is far from the finished article. Reuters

Both teams have problems with speed

Selectors in England and India will likely be envious of the pace bowling stocks at Australia's disposal. Or for that matter Pakistan's. Neither side boasts depth in this department any more.

India's best two seamers have fitness issues. A semi-fit Bhuvneshwar Kumar (lower back problems) was ineffective in the Headingley decider, while an unfit Jasprit Bumrah (thumb injury) remains on the sidelines.

The next best, Mohammed Shami, did not pass the controversial "yo-yo" endurance test. It is evident the experienced Umesh Yadav does better in Tests than ODIs, and the inexperienced Shardul Thakur and Siddharth Kaul are yet unfinished products.

As for England, they have yet to find an able successor to James Anderson, who played his last ODI in 2015. At 33, Liam Plunkett gives the attack solidity. But, while David Willey took three wickets against India in the last game, he has yet to convince with the old ball. Mark Wood is too expensive and not a wicket-taking proposition either.

India's Kuldeep Yadav celebrates taking the wicket of England's Jason Roy during the second ODI at Lord's. Reuters
India's Kuldeep Yadav celebrates taking the wicket of England's Jason Roy during the second ODI at Lord's. Reuters

Kuldeep Yadav not yet ready for upcoming England Tests

The possibility of Kuldeep Yadav being picked ahead of Ravichandran Ashwin for the first Test, which gets under way in two weeks' time at Edgbaston, was gaining momentum following his 5-24 in the first Twenty20 at Old Trafford and 6-25 in the first ODI. What was it going to be: Kuldeep's form or Ashwin's status as the world's premier off-spinner that would influence the selectors?

Kuldeep is a rare commodity in international cricket - a left-arm leg-spinner - plus he is young at 23. Ashwin, eight years older, does not have a remarkable record in England. With wickets there unlikely to give spinners plenty of purchase, the "wise men" of Indian cricket would have been tempted to give Kuldeep a go.

But as it turns out, England's batsmen - particularly Root - did a better job reading his bowling and picking him for runs in the subsequent matches.

He could yet play in the five-Test series, but he should be given a chance only if Ashwin and the more conventional slow left-armer Ravindra Jadeja underwhelm.