We should all be looking forward to this series. It’s the world’s two best ODI sides going at it hammer and tongs. What a shame the series has arrived in the middle of a white ball glut (I’ve had enough already to be honest) and the middle of the football world cup’s climax. Even Joe Root has admitted that he’s more nervous about the footie than he is about the cricket. India might have an advantage simply because England haven’t got their eye on the ball … the cricket ball that is.
Having said that the football will be over on Sunday. The nation will either be in the throws of ecstasy or a ‘close but no donut’ miserable stupor. And then the cricket can take centre stage once more. After all, it should be a cracking series and a true test of our cricketers’ own world cup aspirations.
My initial thoughts are that this is crunch time for Eoin Morgan’s band of happy hitters. Obviously they might win the World Cup anyway if they lose this series, however one senses that an India win will provide a blueprint for other teams to chop down next year’s hosts. After all, it’s pretty obvious what India’s plan will be: hit England with leg-spin and watch them toil and ultimately self-destruct.
Leg-spin, or indeed quality spin of any kind (the mystery bit is an added bonus really), has been English cricket’s achilles heel for years. No scrap that – for decades. No matter how proficient our batting looks on paper it usually implodes when presented with a quality leggie or a slow bowler with a doosra up his sleeve. Sometimes it has been simply embarrassing. Did you see what happened in the U19 World Cup a few months ago?
India’s team is therefore tailor made to upset England’s rhythm. They have two excellent leggies in the same XI, both of whom have records that should make Adil Rashid green with envy. Both Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal average under 22 in ODIs with economy rates comfortably under 5. By comparison England’s top spinner averages 31 and concedes 5.5 runs per over. The gulf in class is obvious. The only positive is that India’s leggies are relatively inexperienced.
In years gone by England teams might have been tempted to play out the opposition’s top spinner and look to cash in against the other bowlers. However, it’s pretty difficult to play cautiously when India have two such spinners. In theory they could bowl 40% of India’s overs. What’s more, this England team hates taking a backward step. The plan will probably be to thrash them like they would any other bowlers – a strategy which is obviously fraught with danger.
Luckily the rest of India’s bowling attack isn’t as potent as it usually is. The remarkably effective Jasprit Bumrah has been ruled out of the series and the experienced Bhuvneshwar Kumar is also struggling with injury and might not play in the opening game. This means that Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow stand a better chance of prolonging their astonishing form at the top of the order.
Having said that, India have terrific faith in their bowlers. Their attack has the best average of all international teams since the 2015 World Cup and also the second best economy rate. England’s bowlers, on the other hand, have been something of a weak link. Although we play on a lot of flat pitches in order to help our aggressive batsmen, it won’t have escaped India’s attention that Willey, Plunkett, Wood, Rashid and Co have the second worst statistics of any attack in the world over the same period.
Although India’s batting line-up isn’t quite as explosive as England’s – or at least they don’t quite have the same depth – they will probably be licking their lips at the prospect of facing our bowlers on a series of featherbeds. I don’t want to be a harbinger of doom, as England are quite capable of winning this series, but we’ve often relied on Rashid and Moeen to slow down the opposition in recent times. Unfortunately, India’s batters play spin rather well.
The good news is that India do rely on four players – that’s Sharma, Dhawan, Kohli and Dohni – a little too much. Rahul and Raina are obviously good players, but their positions in the team aren’t set in stone. This amazes me actually as I’ve always rated Raina very highly. I guess he’s just gone off the boil a bit. What’s more, India do have something of a tail by modern ODI standards. If England do somehow manage to make early inroads, and dismiss the likes of Rohit and Kohli early, then it could prove decisive.
Overall this series should be too close to call. However, although many online bookmakers make England very slight favourites, I’m going to live up to my pessimistic misery-guts reputation by predicting an India win … just.
I don’t think I really need to spell out the reasons why. As England supporters we’re conditioning to expecting the worst when our team comes up against leg spin. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Shane Warne or even someone like Piyush Chawla. We always seem to make a mess of things.
Sometimes I think that capitulating against quality slow bowling is part of an Englishman’s DNA. And after hearing about what happened at Old Trafford in the recent T20 I’m not inclined to change my mind now.
The current England ODI team is very handy indeed. But at the end of the day, it’s still English.
Written in collaboration with AZBoomakers