A series of events unfolded before India finally returned to ground on Friday for their tour match against Middlesex. The changes off the field had taken the center stage for more than a week now, precisely every day after India’s 3-1 drubbing at the hands of England in the Test series. On Friday, there seemed little change on the field for the Indians except that MS Dhoni had decided to take a break, meaning Virat Kohli donned the captain’s hat and young Sanju Samson the wicket-keeping gloves. The stand in captain lost the coin toss and was invited to bat first.
Four overs into the innings, there were similar scenes on the pitch like the third Test or like on the numerous sunny days the Indian batting collapsed against Moeen Ali’s spin and the pace duo of James Anderson and Stuart Broad throughout the series.
Shikhar Dhawan played the ball straight into the hands of mid-on with only 19 runs on the board. India were one down. That quickly became 29 for two with Rohit Sharma caught at third man and then Ajinkya Rahane also threw it away to make it 52 for three. India were disappointing just like they had the entire English summer. The only batsman who had to face the criticism of the defeat more than any one else was Virat Kohli, who once again found himself in the midst of another Indian batting collapse. But his new partner, Ambati Rayudu, was a first timer.
Kohli played a beautiful straight drive off Steven Finn and just when you thought vintage Virat was back, he was beaten outside the off-stump off the very next ball. And again. Twice in succession.
Kohli was caught behind. India lost its fourth wicket but there was a difference in Kohli’s walk back to the pavilion. Kohli and Rayudu had added 104 runs for the fourth wicket. More than the partnership, it was Kohli’s 71-run knock that had brought smiles to the faces in the visitors balcony at the Lord’s, especially the newly appointed Team Director Ravi Shastri. The under-fire batsman, who had scored only 134 runs in 10 innings of the five Tests, would have been more than happy to get some runs before the ODI series.
The result was that India beat the county side comfortably by 95 runs with every bowler, except Ravindra Jadeja, picking up a wicket each while young leg-spinner Karn Sharma claimed three. But on Monday when they play England in Bristol, neither it will be a second string bowling attack with Gurjit Sandhu and James Harris in it nor will the batting collapse like that of Middlesex. India will have to deal with a confident England team with home support.
High on confidence
England will be pinning their hopes on in-form batsmen Joe Root and Gary Ballance, who emerged as the highest run-getter in the Test series, while the likes of skipper Alastair Cook and Ian Bell will provide the much needed experience to the team. The fact that England have a stable batting order with almost all the batsmen among runs give them the upper hand going into the five-match series. Jos Buttler will play a crucial role with the bat for England. The inclusion of Alex Hales gives the skipper another top-order option but who will make way for him? It’s a question Peter Moores and Cook need to decide upon.
In the bowling department, Anderson will once again lead the attack that includes Chris Jordan, Steven Finn, Harry Gurney and Ben Stokes. In the spin department, James Tredwell will test the Indian batsmen with his off-spin the bigger threat is Mooen. Enough said.
Off late, opening pair seems to be India’s biggest problem with a dismal batting average of 22 in the recently concluded Test series and not even a single 50-run stand.
The middle order although looks formidable with Rahane at number four, Rayudu at five (he scored 72 retd ht vs Middlesex) and the most underrated ODI batsman Suresh Raina at six followed by Dhoni at seven.
With no Ishant Sharma around, Mohammed Shami and Bhuveshwar Kumar will spearhead the attack. Either Umesh Yadav or Mohit will be roped in as the third seamer but only if Dhoni decides against two spinners. It will be very interesting to see if Dhoni goes for Jadeja or R Ashwin. Stuart Binny may not be a possibility as the pitches at the first two venues – Bristol and Cardiff – are being considered to be on the slower side.
An interesting statistics that India will take confidence from is that any team which has won the Test series in England during the English summer (2008-13), has failed to win the ODI series. Only this summer, Sri Lanka managed to win both the Test and the One Day series. India can also take confidence from the fact that no current England batsmen, except Ian Bell in Dharamsala 2013, has hit a century versus India in the last five years. On the other hand, Virat Kohli has two tons versus England in the same period. While the numbers favour India, England have the psychological advantage.
It’s not a usual sight to see Dhoni fielding at the deep square-leg position and signing autographs. But on Friday, the behind-wicket man was seen feilding at that position and signing a few for the crowd.
On Monday, the fans will like to see the usual Dhoni brigade and the skipper will not mind signing a few more in the coming 12 days but only after guiding his team to a series win, just like he did a year back at Lord’s, in the Champions Trophy.