Top-order success gives Dhoni options ahead of World Cup
There is a term in sport called 'happy hunting ground', and when India move to Birmingham to play the fourth and series-deciding match, fond memories of their Champions Trophy final victory is bound to flood in. Already, they are in full control of the series and England will need to play very differently from here on to make any mark in the remaining two games.
India look a completely different unit in coloured clothing, and with the spinners proving so effective, England have been made to look far from competitive. It is not that the ball turned square in the last game but with the slightest hint of turn, the England middle-order has been at its wits' end and MS Dhoni hasn't eased up at all. In fact, the body language has completely changed in the English ranks.
We watched James Anderson run in during the Test series, and the spunk is clearly missing now. He looks a bowler who does not look confident, and with Anderson not firing, the entire England bowling unit has looked docile. Also, India openers Rohit Sharma in the first game and Ajinkya Rahane in the second played well for the middle-order to take charge of the blast.
It was good to see Ambati Rayudu adapt very well in his first game. He looked at ease, picked the right deliveries for his shots and when the skipper threw the ball to him for a couple of overs, he didn't let the English batsmen make merry against his part-time spin. He, in fact, delivered an important punch by foxing Alastair Cook down the leg-side and from there on England batsmen struggled to push the score along.
The England middle-order has looked entirely different against the spinning ball and the inability to rotate the strike has choked the batting. To score one boundary in 24 overs is a bizarre testimony to that. They need to do something different and it's time to get in the confident Gary Ballance in place of a middle order bat and Moeen Ali for Ben Stokes. Rayudu's success with the bat gives Dhoni even more options to fix his batting line-up for the next few months going into the World Cup.
It was good to see Virat Kohli striking the ball much better and a big score from him in the next few games shouldn't come as a surprise. What stood out for India is the intensity on the field. It's not that their form in blue clothing in the last few overseas tours has been good but here in the two matches the bowling has been exemplary and it has resulted in comprehensive wins. Hopefully, the forward march will continue.
It's the end of the season in England and the Birmingham wicket may provide turn, which could further complicate things for Cook and company. A greener pitch could be an option to stop this marauding India.
(The writer is a former India skipper)