Cricket: England return to the field of battle refreshed and confident

Captain Alastair Cook withdrew from the game due to illness. Picture: Getty
Captain Alastair Cook withdrew from the game due to illness. Picture: Getty
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ENGLAND have arrived back in India for a five-match one-day series in the finest fettle they have been for over a year.

Form is good, having just recorded a superb 2-1 Test series win over the hosts and, in 2012, they had an extraordinary one-day record of 12 wins and only two losses that took them to the No.1 ranking. The mood among the players should be buoyant and ready for the challenge of beating India, the 50-over world champions, at home.

In contrast the Indians are in a state of disarray, having just suffered two resounding defeats to Pakistan. The whole country is also gripped by the circus that is Sachin Tendulkar and his possible complete retirement from all forms of the game.

So it is surely a good time to be taking them on, despite England’s record of last winning a one-day series in India in 1984-5 and of the past two attempts finishing in whitewashes.

Captain Alastair Cook is certainly confident and content, as he should be considering his own wonderful Test series and the fact that he has a fully rejuvenated Kevin Pietersen at his disposal. Cook worked hard for the rehabilitation of Pietersen into the England set-up, so that should result in plenty of reciprocal support from the mercurial batsman.

There are, though, some absences that Cook will need to adapt to. The first is Andy Flower as head coach. He remains in overall charge of all one-day cricket for England but Ashley Giles is now the hands-on manager. How will this work? No one really knows but Giles is a steady sort of chap not prone to hysteria or hyperbole.

Rather more important is the resting of Graeme Swann. The off-spinner has been a pivotal figure in one-day cricket, bowling hard overs in the middle of the innings and taking wickets.

James Tredwell, his replacement, is a workmanlike bowler and has never let England down. That sounds churlish but really should be considered a compliment. He is not Swann though.

Indeed the whole bowling attack looks a tad callow. James Anderson is also rested, although he is a much better Test operator anyway, and Stuart Broad is suffering a heel injury and is not expected to be available until the final two matches.

That puts a lot of pressure on Steven Finn, who was exceptional last time in India, Jade Dernbach, Stuart Meaker and Tim Bresnan. Apart from Finn there is little experience or standout class.

The spin back-ups are Samit Patel and Danny Briggs. The former bowled poorly in the earlier Tests and the latter was hammered in one of the T20 matches.

There is potential, youth and vitality but, when the ball is going round the park and the crowd are celebrating every run like Diwali, it may take older, wiser heads to keep control.

The batting is more experienced but, without the dependable Jonathan Trott, the anchor at No.3, much depends on Cook, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan and Pietersen. This quartet needs to be the mainstay of each innings.

Jos Buttler has demonstrated coolness under pressure and brilliant inventiveness in the final overs in T20 matches but has only played one 50-over international so far.

Chris Woakes is a talented all-rounder but has been missing since a good start in Australia two years ago and still has only played six matches. Patel is a good player of spin but even he, one of the more experienced in the squad, has only played 31 matches.

Contrast those statistics to India, for whom MS Dhoni, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh have all played over 200 ODI’s. Gautam Gambhir is nearing 150 appearances and Suresh Raina is just past 150, which means that the “baby” of the top seven in the order is Virat Kohli with a mere 93 games.

Indian cricket is in flux, though, and that could help England. Not that it matters to Cook.

Before the Test series he stated it was a difficult challenge but one that England were determined to prove themselves worthy of. He was right, even after the first Test loss at Ahmedabad.

Not surprisingly, the phlegmatic but steely Cook has muttered similar sentiments before this series.

He will demand the absolute most from his team and, if they wish to remain involved at this level of the game, they had better give everything they’ve got.