It’s easy to forget that England are the No.1 ODI side in the world. They have not won an ODI series in India since 1984-85 and were blanked 0-5 on their last two tours. The visit before that had ended with a 1-6 loss. With India on a downswing across formats, this appears to be England’s best chance in recent times to reverse the trend. But the visitors made a blighted start to their campaign with successive defeats to subsidiary teams in preparation for the five-match contest, which begins in chilly Rajkot in three days time.
A well-deserved Christmas break later, Alastair Cook and his men found the going tough in New Delhi, going down to a batting implosion at Palam against India ‘A’, and failing to defend a big total at the Feroz Shah Kotla versus Delhi, where just this past week India and Pakistan fast bowlers had found much assistance and success. Their leading bowler Steven Finn, who is returning from back and thigh injuries, was carted around in the practice games and was guilty of bowling too short, as were Jade Dernbach and Stuart Meaker.
Cook’s ODI party has conspicuous omissions from the Test squad. James Anderson, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar – the principal wicket-takers in Tests – have been rested as part of a rotation policy that seeks to free players of the jadedness of relentless touring. Stuart Broad, who missed the Twenty20 series in December, will be available only for the last two ODIs. Which means the bowling department will be short on experience. All-rounder Tim Bresnan has 65 ODI caps and Finn is next with 25. The two are sure starters and will be joined by off-spinner James Tredwell and one of Dernbach, Meaker or Chris Woakes.
Bresnan too is coming off an injury and had a poor time in the Test series, bowling 45 overs without picking up a single wicket. How he combines with Finn on flat Indian tracks may prove decisive. India’s cup of woes was topped up Pakistan’s brilliant fast bowling and England will have to match that to stay competitive. The 23-year-old Warwickshire all-rounder Woakes is an exciting prospect. He took 6/45 – England’s best overseas ODI figures – in a losing cause at Brisbane last year, and is considered to be a liverwire on the field. While Tredwell may not blaze a trail of success, he will have taken heart from the way Indian batsmen struggled to play Graeme Swann. Rookie left-arm spinner Danny Briggs is unlikely to make an appearance, since Samit Patel can do his job with the ball.
Ian Bell struck gold in the Tour games with 92 and 108 and is expected to maintain his opening combination with Cook. Kevin Pietersen returns to the ODI fold and is likely to man the No.3 position. Dasher Eoin Morgan, who equalized the two-match Twenty20 series with a last-ball six at Mumbai, will be joined by Jos Buttler or Joe Root – who will be battling for a single middle order slot. Wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter will be an asset in the later overs and Samit Patel will strive to shrug off the rash of poor decisions that soiled his Test series. Bresnan and Woakes round up a decent-looking line up, which will be up against a rejuvenated Indian seam attack. Led by the young Bhuvneshwar Kumar and supported by Ishant Sharma and Ashok Dinda - and by the varying degrees of spin of R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja - the hosts’ bowling has looked good of late.
There are other changes to England too. In continuance of the rotation of players policy, coach Andy Flower has stepped aside temporarily to give way to Ashley Giles. Cook has reportedly been spending a lot of time with Giles to acquaint himself with the former England spinner’s style of functioning. And despite the captain’s faith in his side and India’s continuing ineptitude; the competition may not be as one-sided as the recent Test series. As Morgan put it, "They might be going through a bad patch but they are very, very dangerous cricketers and they have guys who can turn the game on its head in a matter of minutes."