England are back after a trip home for the holidays, and will be looking to correct their poor one-day record in India when they face India in the first of five ODIs starting at Rajkot on Friday. India are coming off a 2-1 ODI defeat to Pakistan and desperately need victory to inspire them into what promises to be a long and difficult year. In all regards this is an important series, despite what the critics may say about lengthy bilateral ODI contests, because both India and England have points to prove.
England’s preparations for this series have begun with defeats to India A and Delhi, leaving the skeptics pondering their chances against India. They have won just one of their last 16 bilateral ODIs in India and Alastair Cook will be determined to add a few more numbers in the Win column. He is a batsman in prime form, coming off a superb Test series, and Cook the ODI batsman was a massive figure in England’s run in 50-over cricket last year. How he performs in this series could dictate his team’s fortunes.
Runs will also be expected of Ian Bell, who made 91 and 108 in the practice matches, and Kevin Pietersen’s ODI rehabilitation has given England a huge boost. Eoin Morgan will be a crucial fixture in the middle order, followed by one of Joe Root and Jos Buttler. England’s bowling looks thin on experience, leaving Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Tim Bresnan as the senior bowlers. Jade Dernbach, Chris Woakes, Stuart Meaker, James Tredwell and Danny Briggs make up the rest, with Samit Patel the allrounder.
From an Indian perspective, the focus is on Cheteshwar Pujara who could make his ODI debut in Rajkot. However, the 24-year-old is coming off a five-day Ranji Trophy fixture and it remains to be seen whether the Indian management drafts him in immediately. Also, India have a settled line-up with Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni batting from No. 3 to 6. So figuring out where Pujara would bat is an issue, considering that Ajinkya Rahane is a more senior ODI member and a deserved candidate to open the innings alongside Gautam Gambhir.
But Pujara is a man in form: he is coming off scores of 203 not out off 221 balls – he needed 17 balls to move from 150 to 200 – and a triple-century for Saurashtra. Both innings came at strike-rate of over 80, lending credence to the notion that he is ripe for one-day cricket. If he does play, it could be at the expense of allrounder Ravindra Jadeja, who made 27 and had figures of 10-19-1 in India’s win over Pakistan in New Delhi on Sunday. India’s bowlers won them the dead rubber, so it is likely that Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shami Ahmed and Ishant Sharma continue to operate as a trio. There are no likely changes to the XI.
There is also the chance for India to go to the top of the ICC’s ODI rankings, displacing England, if they win the series 5-0. It looks a tough prospect, and England will be keen to improve on their record here – their last two ODI series resulted in 5-0 whitewashes. The surface in Rajkot is known to be a batting beauty, so winning the toss and batting looks the way forward.
India: 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Ajinkya Rahane, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Shami Ahmed
England: 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Ian Bell, 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Jos Buttler, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Craig Kiestwetter (wk), 7 Samit Patel, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Chris Woakes/Tim Bresnan, 10 JamesTredwell, 11 Steven Finn