IND vs ENG, 2nd ODI: Series win in sight, India fret over spin combination
An image of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, arms around their shoulders, trended on social media on Wednesday as Team India made the most of a rare leisure day in their bio-bubble in Pune. But come Friday, they will be back to business as the hosts look to overpower England in the second ODI and seal the three-game series.
Keeping England’s aggression in check may not be easy for India and the visitors’ belligerence seldom dips. After putting up a 318-run target in the first ODI, the Kohli-led Indian team had to weather an England batting storm that saw them notch 131/0 in just 14 overs, although the chase faltered in the latter stages with Shardul Thakur striking crucial blows.
Credit should go to debutant pacer Prasidh Krishna (4/54), Thakur (3/37) and the experienced Bhuvneshwar Kumar (2/30) for stopping England’s onslaught. The Indian spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Krunal Pandya – who combined went for 127/1 in 19 overs - were unimpressive. If Hardik Pandya is going to be used sparingly in bowling, then getting the spin combination right becomes even more vital.
Krunal, after conceding 36 in his first three overs, managed to pull things back but Yadav looked listless in his nine overs. The Chinaman bowler, who has been regularly overlooked for a place in the XI in the last few months, couldn’t do any good to his future prospects. His numbers show a worrying trend. Yadav, picked as a mystery spinner after the 2017 Champions Trophy, took 93 wickets at an average of 23 and economy rate of 4.95 till the 2019 World Cup. After that, he has averaged 51.41 for his 12 wickets, conceding 6.1 runs per over.
In Yuzvendra Chahal, India has an able replacement but bringing in the leg-spinner could be a risk against a batting line-up comprising attacking left-handers like Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Sam Curran. Besides, Krunal, whose place in the team looks assured thanks to his 31-ball 58* on debut in the first ODI, also brings the ball into the left hander. Washington Sundar is the other spinner in the squad but India may not be confident of using him as a lead spinner in the ODIs.
There will be one forced change in the Indian batting with Shreyas Iyer’s shoulder injury opening up a middle-order slot. Suryakumar Yadav had to endure a long wait for his T20I debut, but his ODI debut looks imminent in Iyer’s absence. Having expanded his scoring range to both sides of the wicket and with a unique ability to score in the reverse V, Yadav’s presence will serve India well as they look to bring in more urgency to the middle overs.
“When we play more games as a team, we will realise we have the potential to do that (bat with freedom) even when the top order does not fire,” KL Rahul, who got a 43-ball 62 in the first game, told reporters.
“When we get 350-360, people will say we are playing with a lot more freedom. For us it’s about, how in every situation, we can get the team past 300 or 350, on that particular wicket, on that particular day. The more regularly we do that, the more confidence we will get as a batting group.”
Rishabh Pant is the other wicketkeeper-batsman option that India can use in the middle order. But lately in the ODIs, it’s Rahul, who has been donning the keeper’s gloves and batting at no.5. In between his Test and T20I slump, Rahul has fiercely held on to his ODI slot. Raising the tempo in the middle overs, Rahul now has a more impressive batting average at no.5 (63.71), compared to when opening (50.50) the innings.
Before his poor run of scores in the T20Is against England, he had been warming the benches for three months. “When you are part of this Indian team you always know that competition will always be very high. You can never sit back and feel that you own this position,” Rahul said.
“As players you try to keep pushing yourself and try to get better and better. And when the opportunity comes, try to hold on to it. I have been scoring runs and contributing in whatever roles that have been thrown at me for the last two and half years. I have always put team ahead and performed.”
India’s rivals too are not without problems. On the eve of the must-win match, England captain Eoin Morgan was ruled out of series with an injury. He sustained split webbing between his thumb and index finger during the first ODI, which required four stitches. While Dawid Malan has been added to the squad, Jos Buttler will lead the visitors.
Despite being reigning world champions in the format using pioneering modus operandi, it’s been evident in the current tour that England needs its middle-order to step up to keep up with their go-hard at all time approach.
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Joe Root has been playing the role of that one solid anchor around a horde of attacking batsmen. But he is not in India. Ben Stokes, who has been promoted in the batting order, is yet to fire. In Liam Livingstone, who will debut on Friday, they have another aggressive batting option in the long list of English white-ball batsmen who bat with intent.