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Confident India have clear edge over Eng

Buoyed by the emphatic 2-0 Test series victory over Australia a few days ago, hosts India take on England in the first of the 7 One-Day Internationals in Rajkot on Friday.

cricket Updated: Nov 13, 2008 14:29 IST

Buoyed by the emphatic 2-0 Test series victory over Australia a few days ago, hosts India take on England in the first of the seven cricket One-Day Internationals in Rajkot on Friday, hoping to continue their rich vein of form.

The euphoria over their triumph over the world champions is yet to die down, but Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men -- including those who were not part of the Test series -- know that England provide a new challenge in the limited-over format of the game.

Kevin Pietersen-led England had reached this country when the fourth and final Test in the Test series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy was heading towards its climax and must be aware of the enormity of the task that awaits them at the Madhavrao Scindia Stadium in Rajkot.

Even in the absence of the Test stalwarts, including Sachin Tendulkar who has been rested for the first three games and injured new pace sensation Ishant Sharma, the hosts carry too many potent arsenal for the liking of England.

The home team will certainly miss Man of the Series against Australia, Ishant, who has been rested because of a slight ankle strain. But in the likes of Munaf Patel and R P Singh India have capable speedsters to deliver the goods in tandem with in-form spearhead Zaheer Khan.

The return of Virender Sehwag, who missed the ODI series in Sri Lanka that India clinched in August, will see the swashbuckler open the innings with his Delhi team-mate Gautam Gambhir who was forced to miss out the Nagpur Test because of the one-match ban imposed on him by the ICC and is now available to play. With in-form Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina bringing in the daring approach to batting, besides some fresh pair of legs on the field, a concern for the home team lies with Yuvraj Singh who creamed a century against Australia in the pre-Test series warm-up tie at Hyderabad before going off the boil.

With the hard-hitting Yusuf Pathan available to liven up the slog-over hitting in the company of his captain Dhoni, the batting looks formidable while the spin attack also sports a strong look with the feisty Harbhajan Singh heading it.

The visitors must have fancied their chances in India soon after winning 4-0 against a top outfit like South Africa a few months ago, but they now need to rediscover that sort of form quickly in alien conditions if they want to bring down the high-flying hosts.

They have also come here after losing badly to Standford Superstars in the one-off Twenty20 game played for millions of dollars in Antigua, West Indies, and promptly lost to a second string Mumbai XI in the second of two warm-up games two days ago.

Pietersen has offered a brave face despite the humiliating loss in Mumbai.

"I think the guys are all right, we just need to turn our heads on now and make sure we start on Friday," he said after the shock reversal in a match in which they were bowled out for a meager total.

"Today and what happened the other day (in Antigua) doesn't really count in the grand scheme of things. What counts is the internationals. This really doesn't matter, but it has taught us a few quick lessons," Pietersen said after the unexpected loss. Making it more difficult for the visitors is the non-availability of left-arm swing bowler Ryan Sidebottom who has not played a match since landing in this country because of a heel injury.

But, much to their relief, young pacer Stuart Broad, the bowler creamed for six sixes in an over by Yuvraj in a Twenty20 World Cup tie in South Africa in 2007, has passed a fitness test and would be part of the playing XI tomorrow.

Pietersen and talismanic all-rounder Andrew Flintoff need to be at their very best form in order to overturn the 1-5 thrashing they received in India in 2005-06.

Flintoff, incidentally, is being given special attention by their batting coach Andy Flower, who was enormously successful for Zimbabwe in these conditions during his playing days, to counter India's spin threat.

Owais Shah is among the batsmen to play spin well but the onus will be on openers Ian Bell and Matt Prior to stave off the danger posed by Zaheer and whoever opens the Indian bowling with him to lay a strong platform for the visitors.

The visitors have already announced their playing XI with Samit Patel preferred to Graeme Swann as the lone spinner.

It will also be the first time that the new Power Play rules for ODIs, introduced on October 1, will be used in Indian conditions and it would be vital to both the teams on how well they adapt and use them to their advantage.

In a significant change, the batting side can choose the timing of either the second or third Power Plays, of five overs each, both chosen earlier by the fielding side. he Teams:

India (From): Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt.), Virender Sehwag (vice-capt), Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Pragyan Ojha, R P Singh, Munaf Patel, Virat Kohli, Murali Vijay.

England: Kevin Pietersen (capt.), Ian Bell, Matt Prior, Owais Shah, Paul Collingwood, Ravi Bopara, Andrew Flintoff, Samit Patel, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steve Harmison.

Umpires: Russel Tiffin and Suresh Shastri.

Third Umpire: Amish Saheba

Match Referee: Roshan Mahanama.

Hours of play: 9 am to 12:30 pm, 1:10 pm to 4:40 pm.

First Published: Nov 13, 2008 12:35 IST