x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

India v England series will be a gripping contest, not a war

Even those who would struggle to stifle yawns at the prospect of another one-day series will be keeping an eye on this match-up, between an emerging English side and an Indian one desperate for redemption.

MS Dhoni is one of five remaining players from India’s 50-overs World Cup triumph earlier this year.
MS Dhoni is one of five remaining players from India’s 50-overs World Cup triumph earlier this year.

"There's no weapon deadlier than vengeance. The war resumes this October." That's not an advert for a Rambo movie, or for the latest instalment of the Star Wars series. It is the host broadcaster's promotional campaign for the five-match one-day series between India and England that starts later on Friday.

The sentiment behind the hyperbolic message should not be missed.

This is no run-of-the-mill 50-overs contest. Even those who would normally struggle to stifle yawns at the prospect of another interminable one-day series will be keeping an eye on this match-up between an emerging English side and an Indian one desperate for redemption after a summer to forget.

India did not just lose in England. They were humiliated. The four Tests were as much of a contest as Muhammad Ali's schooling of Ernie Terrell in 1967 - every other punch was followed by a "What's my name?" after the challenger had enraged the champion boxer by calling him Cassius Clay.

A one-day side missing several of the stalwarts that led India to a World Cup title last April acquitted themselves far better, but the squad still flew home in September without an international win from a tour that lasted a shade over two months.

The teams may be ranked only fourth and fifth in the world - England are a point ahead on 113 - but with both eager to test the depth of their resources, these games will be about far more than the here and now.

India's need for renewal is far greater. Only five of the 15 chosen for the first two games - MS Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and R Ashwin - tasted World Cup success six months ago.

Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh are injured. Ashish Nehra, India's go-to bowler in the slog overs until he broke a finger in the World Cup semi-final, has not been considered. Harbhajan Singh, with just 17 wickets in his last 17 games, has been dropped.

When Dhoni sealed that World Cup victory with an emphatic six into the Mumbai night, the world was an Indian fan's oyster. The throng celebrating on Marine Drive that night was not just savouring the one 50-over match, but three years of progress that had included the annexing of the No 1 ranking in Test cricket.

The magnitude of the thrashing in England made most forget that euphoria.

Once again, the talk shows are focussed on Indian cricket's structural flaws, and the conflicts of interest mushrooming here, there and everywhere.

It is easy to paint a picture of the Indian fan as an overly emotional mess, but most of the time the flames of indignation are fanned by sections of the media interested only in upping their ratings.

The purists may take a while to recover from the Test drubbings in England, but the vast majority will forgive and forget if a one-day series is comfortably won over the next two weeks.

England have won just 13 of their 35 one-day games in India and only one of the last 13 completed matches. Their last encounter was a thrilling tie at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in March, with both sides squandering opportunities to seal a game that saw 676 runs scored.

That failure to defend 338 illustrated India's bowling limitations, and the World Cup campaign ignited only after Ashwin's off spin was introduced to the fray.

With Harbhajan not part of the picture, the onus is on Ashwin to deliver both wickets and control. Rahul Sharma is very much a limited-overs specialist, chosen on the strength of his performances for the Pune Warriors during the last Indian Premier League season.

Like Anil Kumble, he is a tall leg-spinner who relies on bounce as much as turn to outsmart batsmen. Ravindra Jadeja, the third slow bowler, is the tourniquet option, as evidenced by just 33 wickets in 38 matches.

If there is an obvious weakness for Andy Flower and England to target, it is the lack of experience in the pace department.

Vinay Kumar and Umesh Yadav have played just nine games between them. Sreenath Aravind, treated dismissively during the Champions League Twenty20, and Varun Aaron are debutants.

Both Aaron and Yadav come in with reputations for bowling fast. Aravind's call-up, with Zaheer and Nehra sidelined, is clearly an attempt to unearth another left-arm option. Irfan Pathan still has not been considered, while RP Singh did nothing in England to suggest that his selection was anything but a mistake.

Home fans will also get the chance to watch the batting of Ajinkya Rahane, the find of the ODI series in England. He, Parthiv Patel and Manoj Tiwary are the main beneficiaries of the injury crisis, while Shikhar Dhawan, after an outstanding start to the domestic season, can also expect another call before the series is over.

It won't be war minus the shooting, as Mike Marquesee called his book, but we can expect a gripping contest or two.


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