A lot has been at stake during England’s tour of India.
The riveting T20I series served as an audition for the World Cup scheduled later in the year. Prior to that, the four-match Test series decided who will face New Zealand in the World Test Championship final.
But the three-match ODI series to be held behind closed doors in Pune at the fag end of the sojourn offers little context and relevance, with back-to-back T20 World Cups pencilled in before the next 50-over showpiece event in 2023.
Last year, India captain Virat Kohli raised eyebrows when he said ODIs were “not relevant” in the year of a T20 World Cup. The event was later postponed by a year due to the pandemic, but there was some truth to Kohli’s assertion. The 50-over ICC World Cup was once cricket’s biggest prize, but in recent times, the ODI format has been caught in somewhere between the five-day format and the T20s.
Just to give an indication of how much this format has fallen in the pecking order in recent times, consider England’s recent schedule. Since their 2019 World Cup triumph, England have played only nine ODIs — winning four and losing four, with one game washed out.
— BCCI (@BCCI) March 22, 2021
When Kohli was asked about the rationale of playing an ODI series in a year that has the World Test championship as well as the T20 World Cup, he urged administrators to consult players before finalising the calendar, especially with the unique situation because of the ongoing pandemic. “Scheduling is something that’s not in our control. For us, international games… every game is important and every game has value. It’s an opportunity to represent your team. For us, that remains our sole focus,” he said during a virtual press conference. “I’ve said this before also, scheduling and workload, everyone will have to be very aware of and keep an eye out for. You never know when restrictions can come in place. In future, we might have to play in bubbles so it’s very important to consider how much cricket we are playing.”
A matter of priorities
Does this mean that the 50-over format has gone out of vogue? Not quite. Barely two years ago, this format witnessed arguably ‘The greatest game ever played’ between England and New Zealand at Lord’s. This year, however, teams are taking a pragmatic approach and focusing more on Tests as well as the 20-over format.
But a white-ball contest between India and England in either format invariably throws up exciting duels.
“It’s going to be exciting, three games at the same ground against a very strong Indian side is a huge opportunity for everyone to get back out there, in the frame of mind and the pace of 50-over cricket, and for guys who want to make their case in both formats,” England captain Eoin Morgan said.
Even though this series offers little context in the grander scheme of things, Morgan will be eyeing the 60 World Cup Super League points up for grabs (India have already qualified for the 2023 World Cup as hosts).
Chance to impress
That apart, he reckoned this series would be useful in providing fringe players such as Sam Billings and Liam Livingstone an opportunity to push their case for inclusion in the T20 World Cup squad. “We see the 50-over format between the two T20 World Cups as a building block for our squad. And that’s not compromising on performance at all. We feel we have an extremely strong squad outside of our final eleven regardless of format, so it will present opportunities for guys like that,” he opined. “Given a World Cup is around the corner, playing any cricket is a huge opportunity for guys who have been here on the fringes and not made the selection so far. When you score runs or take wickets away from home there is always a huge incentive to try and push your case forward,” he explained.
ICYMI: Our squad to face India in our final three matches of the winter 🏴🏏
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) March 21, 2021
For the England skipper, this series would give his team another opportunity to firm up their plans and acclimatise with Indian conditions after his team’s 2-3 loss in the T20I series.
“Trying to envisage where 50-over cricket will be in three years is quite difficult. So, the challenge for us is always trying to explore and push the limits as much as we can. In conditions that are a little bit alien to us, like in India, it’s nice to get out of your comfort zone, and learn more about your team and your players, make mistakes and learn from them,” he concluded.