As you walk into the Yorkshire Cricket County Club, just behind the Headingley Rugby Stadium, there is a lot of construction going on. It is a bid to increase the capacity of this historic ground, from 15000 to 20000, in preparation for the 2019 ODI World Cup.
In a sense, it makes for a poignant setting. The massive concrete structure will be in the background as England and India go head-to-head in the third and final ODI in this short bilateral series. Clearly, whoever talks about cricket on Tuesday, the undercurrent of next year’s big tournament will weigh heavy in all conversations.
England’s momentum: Given that it is a happy home ground for the hosts, this is going to be the first thing on everyone’s mind. It is never easy going into a decider game when you have just lost comprehensively. England did more though, when they won by 86 runs at Lord’s. In doing so, they revealed what India’s various shortcomings are, both with bat and ball.
Perhaps, from England’s singular point of view, the most significant pointer was in how Joe Root and Eoin Morgan contended with Kuldeep Yadav. Despite early wickets, they nicked singles and doubles off him, and took the odd boundary. They attacked other bowlers around him in the meantime, thus keeping a progressive run-rate. It was a model copied from the Cardiff T20I, only enhanced on a truer batting surface. It worked, and a repeat might be in the offing
India’s weaknesses: The Men in Blue are a different team in ODIs than in T20Is, despite many of the same personnel in both line-ups. In the shorter version, Virat Kohli coming down the order and batting at no.4 solves a problem. Other batsmen are equally effective and this papers over cracks in the middle that resurface in the longer white-ball version.
In ODIs, Kohli bats at no.3, as he should. When someone averages 58.13 in ODI cricket, you simply don’t mess around with their comfort zone. The inherent problem is what happens with the middle order if the top-order, like in London, fails to get going. Since 2016, there have been 9 ODIs wherein none among Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma managed to get at least a half-century. India lost on six occasions.
So, what do India do herein? Do they bring in Dinesh Karthik who has been in good nick of late or even Shreyas Iyer, who boasts of two half-centuries in his first six ODIs? Or, do they persist with Rahul for at least one more game? There is no right answer here.
A long Indian tail: MS Dhoni is a sure-shot starter on Tuesday, never mind his slow innings at Lord’s. Turns out, it was a calculated move to bat out 50 overs and the crowd reaction was just boorish behaviour at best. Assistant coach Sanjay Bangar confirmed it as much on Monday, but additionally added that ‘there were no batsmen late in the order to salvage a victory’. It reflects harshly on the current Indian team selection.
More than that, it highlights how badly India are missing Bhuvneshwar Kumar, perhaps even more than Jasprit Bumrah. Batting at no.8, he allows for the possibility of a late-order partnership to develop with a finisher like Dhoni or Hardik Pandya. The win at Pallekele last August wherein Kumar scored his maiden ODI half-century, and took India to victory with Dhoni for company, is a case in point.
Team News: For England, there are a couple injury concerns. Ben Stokes got hit on his right hand whilst taking slip catching fielding. He was using a bowling machine, unlike the manual method of using a bat, which is prevalent in the Indian team. Whether it hampered his reaction time is anybody’s guess. Jason Roy got hit too, during fielding drills, and he is more likely to sit out. There will be a fitness test on Tuesday morning, and Sam Billings is on stand by.
There will be a second fitness test as well, and it will be more keenly watched. Kumar bowled in the nets on Tuesday and looked raring to go. Bangar though pointed out, that with the Test series quickly approaching, he wouldn’t be put at risk.
India had an optional training session, with Kohli, Dhawan, Pandya, Umesh Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal staying away. They are all likely to play. It doesn’t mean that those who came in aren’t sure starters (example, Dhoni). But there was this sight of Shreyas Iyer practicing his leg spin. India do like to have a sixth bowling option, but will they ever need three wrist spinners in the same playing eleven?
The Pitch: Brown. Green. Green. Brown. Green. This has been the sequence of pitches in the past five limited-overs’ games so far on this tour. Don’t let it fool you for a second though, as the green-tops have all turned out to be pretty good batting surfaces. Even so, they achieved points for England. Kuldeep Yadav was dropped at Bristol. And at Lord’s, the English spinners strangled the Indian batting line-up.
The Headingley wicket, on Monday, was neither completely brown nor completely green. It was a mix of the two, with green stripes only at the two ends. Local word is that it will be a magnificent batting surface with Kuldeep the only spinner worth any danger, and 330 will be the par score. How it eventually plays out though is anybody’s guess.
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