By Tom Huelin
Critics have said that the series between India and England starting today (October 14) in Hyderabad is little more than a money-spinning extravaganza. The meaningless procession of five One-Day Internationals (ODI) and a T20 crammed in three weeks is quite unnecessary in what is already a hectic international schedule.
Indeed this tour isn't even an obligatory one. The ICC demands that every major cricketing nation plays each other home and away over a nine-year period, something known as the Future Tours Programme (FTP) and England touring India is certainly not a series in danger of defaulting on that promise any time soon.
For me though, this tour is a great idea. This ODI series pits current World Cup champions India against an England side hoping to claim their crown at the next World Cup in New Zealand and Australia in 2015.
Since winning the Ashes in January, the first time England have triumphed Down Under in 24 years, Andy Flower has put success in one-day cricket at the top of England’s agenda. However, after a disappointing showing at the World Cup in April 2011, losing by 10 wickets to Sri Lanka in the quarter-finals, changes were needed and Alastair Cook has since replaced Andrew Strauss as captain in this format.
With home series wins over Sri Lanka and India already secured under Alastair Cook’s captaincy, the future looks bright for this young side, but this tour of India will be their toughest assignment yet and we will learn a lot about just how far England have come by the end of it.
Historically, England have struggled in India, winning only one of their last 13 One-Day Internationals here, so any success enjoyed in this series will be a real statement of intent from Cook’s men.
But regardless of how this series progresses, it's just nice to see the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) focusing their efforts on 50-over cricket, rather than annexing a ODI series awkwardly to the end of long Test schedule, as if it were a warm-down exercise to the main event.
Look at the Ashes schedule last year. Many people, including Sir Ian Botham, bemoaned the decision to play seven ODIs at the end of such a draining and intense Test series. Those ODIs were supposed to be a warm-up for England’s World Cup campaign, but with players tired and unmotivated, poor performances and injuries were all England took home from that series.
Whether ODI cricket is your thing or not is up to you, but one thing’s for sure: for England to prosper in this format it is imperative that they play more series like this one, focusing specifically on the 50-over game, building a specialist squad to compete with the best teams around.
This series should tell us a lot about whether England's masterplan for world domination in every form of cricket is on course, but it is unlikely to be one-way traffic. Given India’s strength at home, plus England’s appalling record there, even a narrow defeat may give rise to optimism in the camp, depending on how well the side performs.
My only concern is that in continuing the rotation policy that sees Jimmy Anderson rested for this series, will we actually see an England ODI side that is essentially the first XI regularly enough before the World Cup in 2015?
In Australia last year, Cook did all the work of keeping the shine on the ball for the whole of the Test series. Why? Because out of all the England players, he sweated the least (sweat on the ball reduced the chances of getting the ball to reverse swing).
To be the best, that level of detail needs to be considered, and I just hope that England remember to hone a winning first XI as well as amassing a huge pool of players from which to choose from.
Or perhaps I'm just being pedantic now?
(A cricket writer living on a road running perpendicular to Hampshires Rosebowl ground. I am particularly proud of that fact, although clearly it has no bearing on my writing ability! I write about all forms or the game, particularly when England are involved, but will offer my opinion on other teams as and when I see fit! please interact and let me know your views, either on here or on Twitter: @tomhue1)