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By Chetan Narula
Birmingham: Sep 1, 2014
An unassailable lead in their pocket, India would look to clinch the one-day series against England by putting up another dominating display when the two sides square off in the fourth cricket one-dayer on Tuesday.
The visitors have taken an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series after 133-run (D/L) and six-wicket wins in Cardiff and Nottingham in the second and third ODIs respectively. This was after the first ODI at Bristol was abandoned due to incessant rain.
At Edgbaston then, the Men in Blue will be hoping to wrap things up with one match remaining in the series. Their confidence will stem from the simple fact that England have been unable to challenge them in the two matches played so far.
On current evidence, in limited-overs cricket, the hosts appear to be a completely different animal that takes the field in the Test arena. Like every other team they too are building up to the 2015 World Cup in Australia-New Zealand, but they are beset with problems.
A lot of quarters have criticised Alastair Cook’s batting at the top of the order but along with Alex Hales, he has put up two fifty partnerships in two games.
That isn’t the trouble though. His captaincy has been under the scanner and while the 3-1 series win helped silence his critics, even his closest supporters — read Graeme Swann — do not believe that he should lead his country in the World Cup. However, that is done and dusted, he will do so, and England’s problems mount from there.
Cook’s captaincy is quite unimaginative in the sense that he doesn’t feel the need to play two off-spinners in the same eleven. This conventional thinking has always been England’s downfall in limited-overs cricket, and that is the summation of their problems.
At Nottingham, for example, they should have attacked Suresh Raina-Ambati Rayudu when they were deployed by Dhoni within the first 20 overs of the English innings. The score read 80-odd for 1 wicket at that juncture and any other team would have looked to murder the Indian bowling. Such attacking intent is missing from England. It is perhaps the reason why they haven’t won anything of value in this 50-over format, leave alone a single ICC trophy.
Their last major ODI win was in New Zealand in early 2013 which was quickly avenged when the Kiwis won in England later that summer. Since then they have beaten West Indies (earlier in 2014) and won one-off matches against Ireland and Scotland. They have been drubbed twice by Australia and beaten by Sri Lanka at home in this interim, so much so that their final appearance in the 2013 Champions Trophy looks like a happy aberration.
Does this mean India’s upswing in form in last two ODIs is a miscalculation? It could be, since this same team struggled a lot in South Africa and New Zealand, wherein conditions were more similar to the ones that will be prevailing in the quadrennial event next year.
India’s openers found it tough to get starts against more disciplined bowling attacks. The middle order couldn’t take the subsequent pressure and only Virat Kohli and Dhoni himself were among the runs in New Zealand. Here, the former’s poor run-of-form has been shaded by the Indian success riding on others’ shoulders.
India’s own World Cup plans have been hit by Rohit Sharma’s finger injury. This is their last overseas ODI assignment before the tri-series in Australia later in January, a dress rehearsal for their title defence.
As such they would have wanted Rohit and Shikhar Dhawan to play all these five matches. While one is out injured, the latter is struggling to string together any semblance of form.
In eight matches in South Africa, New Zealand and England, his scores are 12, 0, 32, 12 28, 9, 11 and 16. He is a shadow of the batsman he was in the Champions Trophy last year.
It is an intriguing problem for India. Ajinkya Rahane has often stepped in as part-timer opener but when both Rohit and Dhawan have been selected, he has batted at number four.
At Trent Bridge, the think-rank opted for their part-time arrangement and moved Rahane up again. It afforded Ambati Rayudu another opportunity, especially after he scored a decent half-century in the warm-up match against Middlesex.
He hasn’t got many chances in the first eleven and when he was included in the side at Trent Bridge, Rayudu responded with a career-best 64 not out.
Meanwhile, Murali Vijay has joined the team as Rohit’s replacement and it becomes an interesting selection headache, one with long-term implications.
With Vijay now available, will Rahane move back to number four, his long-term slot, as Dhoni had suggested in Cardiff? Or will India continue to play their short-term solution for Rohit’s absence?
If Vijay doesn’t play, will that mean Rahane is the firm third-choice opener for the World Cup and will be performing a dual role as per the situation? If Vijay does play, is he the alternate opener for Australia-New Zealand in 2015 then? All these questions and many more are waiting to be answered.
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