Manchester: Their supremacy in shorter formats is redoubtable but India will have their task cut out against a vastly improved England in the opening T20 International in what will be a defining summer for Virat Kohli and his team.
While India has been a consistent limited overs side during the past decade, England have finally found their mojo in ODIs and T20s, courtesy a group of fantastic limited overs players like Jos Buttler, Jason Roy and Ben Stokes.
With the 2019 ODI World Cup less than 12 months away, there is more than bragging rights at stake as both sides look to fine-tune preparations against an opposition of note.
India are coming into the series with two facile victories over Ireland — by 72 and 143 runs respectively but Kohli knows too well that England will be a different proposition.
What will give him confidence though is the fact that India have won 15 of their last 20 T20 Internationals including the Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka and the bilateral away series against South Africa.
England are coming into series on the back of 6-0 drubbing of Australia with Buttler, Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow in fantastic form.
Dating back to June 2017, England have won 5 out of 9 T20Is played against South Africa, West Indies, Australia and New Zealand. Therein, they did endure a torrid time in the tri-series against the latter two sides (earlier in March), losing 3 out of 4 games.
For the Men in Blue, the Irish tour was nothing more than a glorified warm-up where all the top order batsmen save Virat Kohli got runs while wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal were again among wickets.
However Jasprit Bumrah’s thumb injury will be a concern as he has played a big role with his death overs bowling. It will be interesting to find whether his replacement Deepak Chahar gets his maiden cap even though senior pro Umesh Yadav looks more likely replacement.
It was the first time since February that a full-strength Indian team took the field and they did well to brush off any rust with most of the limited-overs’ players having enjoyed time off since the end of 2018 IPL.
To start off the series, the Indian team management is expected to play around with set combinations. Siddarth Kaul could come into consideration as well, if one of the wrist spinners is benched. That option will be dependent on pitch conditions, but it has been two very hot days by Manchester standards, and so both spinners could come into play in the baking sun.
With Hardik Pandya slotting in as the sole all-rounder, his brother Krunal and Chahar will have to wait for their turns.
Attention then turns to the middle order, wherein Kohli isn’t looking to make too many changes. The skipper himself, Raina and MS Dhoni are the backbone of the batting line-up, while Manish Pandey is in running for the fourth spot on account of his good run in international T20 cricket.
Batting late in the order, he boasts of 276 runs in 10 matches at average 92 and strike-rate 127.18. These numbers are hard to ignore.
Additionally, Kohli hinted in Ireland that any permutations in the playing eleven would only be like-for-like changes. In turn, this means Rahul could sit out as back-up opener and Dinesh Karthik is still an understudy for Dhoni, again favouring Pandey’s inclusion ahead of both.
The former reasoning could impact India’s preparation for the ODI series as Rahul and Karthik are in contention to bat in the middle order in the 50-over format. However, Pandey is not included in the ODI squad here and giving him ample game time in the T20Is could also be a factor.
England, meanwhile, made a few strategic changes after their poor showing in the tri-series. Assistant coach Paul Farbrace was put in charge of the T20 team for Australia and India series, while head coach Trevor Bayliss took to domestic cricket scouting at the same time.
One of the first moves of the new regime was to promote Jos Buttler as opener and it worked in fine fashion as he struck the quickest T20I half-century for an English batsman as Australia were beaten by 28 runs at Edgbaston.
Buttler scored 50 off only 22 balls, and his knock including six fours and five sixes mirrored his IPL form. Back in April-May, he hit five successive half-centuries for the Rajasthan Royals and finished the tournament with 548 runs from 13 matches at a strike-rate of 155.24.
Needles to say, he will be India’s greatest threat, albeit the likes of Jason Roy and Alex Hales also add a lot of firepower to the English top-order.
India: Virat Kohli (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Suresh Raina, Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni (wk), Dinesh Karthik, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Krunal Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Deepak Chahar, Hardik Pandya, Siddarth Kaul, Umesh Yadav.
England: Eoin Morgan (c), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Jos Buttler (wk), Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, David Willey, Dawid Malan.