With the amount of cricket being played not just by India, but by pretty much every cricketing nation and all over the world (even in Canada), the lack of excitement for a series or tourney is perfectly understandable. Not all cricket is accompanied by unpredictability and a genuine showcasing of skill (don’t mistake this as an allusion to the perceived inequality between bat and ball these days) to hook us in—the historic, one-off Test between India and Afghanistan or India’s two T20Is against Ireland, for example—and you’re free to choose the cricket tournaments that you really want to watch.
On the other hand, you have cricket series that simply can’t be missed, those which you can’t help but be excited about: The Ashes, ties between South Africa and Australia, India and Australia, India and Pakistan, India and England, Australia and New Zealand, to name a few.
Now, the forthcoming three-match T20I and ODI series between India and England fall into the category of Cricket Series That Can’t Be Missed and which are a genuine source of excitement.
Here are the reasons to be excited (in case you aren’t) and the reasons that justify your sense of excitement (presuming you are excited but want clarity or get yourself warmed up even more).
A top-of-the-table clash
Featuring the top two teams in ICC ODI team rankings, this series is likely to demonstrate why England and India are currently ranked No. 1 and 2.
England come into the ODI series against India having won four of their last five bilateral ODI series, the one loss was in the one-off ODI against Scotland, who edged Eoin Morgan and co. in a high-scoring thriller in Edinburgh. In fact, since the start of 2017, their only other ODI series loss came against India in India in January last year. Therefore, England’s No. 1 ranking is a proof of their consistency and ability to win in all conditions and against pretty much every opposition.
England have largely functioned as a team to win seven of their last nine bilateral ODI series, their batting proving to be the greater strength and contributing more to the victories.
Never before might the English have been able to put out as strong a one-day side out on the park as the current one, but from India’s perspective too, the current crop forms arguably the best Indian one-day side ever, in terms of batting might, bowling firepower and athleticism on the field.
India’s line-up has more balance and their bench strength is far greater than what England can turn to. But the series is a short one, as was the case when England toured India last year, and your first-choice XI have to be on the money straight away, to win the series.
Any way you look, this is a genuinely mouthwatering tussle between two great ODI outfits currently!
England’s batting against India’s bowling
208, 314, 481, 342, 218, 365, 229, 335, 234, and 225 have been England’s last 10 ODI totals. Four of those 200 scores came while they were chasing a score and, when they have batted first this calendar year, they have tended to score more than 300 more often than not.
Again, these scores are a proof of just how good England’s batting is. Jonny Bairstow has been the best ODI batsman in 2018, Jason Roy does not hold back at any stage of an innings, Joe Root renders middle-order stability and a nous of batting against spin in the middle overs, and Jos Buttler, Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes form a fearsome trio to be bowling to in the death overs. And the English bat deep too, up to Adil Rashid at No. 10, with Liam Plunkett and Chris Woakes potentially batting ahead of him.
No wonder then that the Australian bowlers struggled in two series against their bitter rival this year and even a New Zealand bowling attack with Trent Boult and Tim Southee copped a fair amount of punishment in the home ODI series in March.
Next up are India, who will unleash Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah (depending on if he recovers from the finger injury which has ruled him out of the T20Is) and the two wrist-spinners on the powerful English batting line-up. While the T20I and ODI series will likely be decided by this duel (India’s bowling against the English batting), the battle of in-form batsmen against an incisive bowling attack should make for intriguing viewing.
The IPL factor
13 English players featured in the 11th edition of the IPL and most of them added to the quality of an already competitive T20 league. Seven of them (Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Liam Plunkett, David Willey, and Mark Wood) are regulars in the England one-day side.
Buttler was the outstanding of the Englishmen in the IPL. His form earned him a place back in the national Test team and he has carried his form from Rajasthan Royals to the national team. But Buttler’s current form is not the only reason to speak about the IPL factor.
The experience of having played with and against the Indian players in the recent past—Roy with Delhi Daredevils, Moeen with Royal Challengers Bangalore, Alex Hales with Sunrisers Hyderabad, Tom Curran with Kolkata Knight Riders, Liam Plunkett with Delhi Daredevils, among others—may give England an advantage. We will also know if playing a major portion of IPL 2018 in dry, spinner-friendly conditions will help the likes of Roy, Buttler and Stokes (in the batting department) tackle the Indian spinners (Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav) better.
England — the team under pressure?
Such has been England’s form over the last 18 months, in particular, that they are already being talked up as a favourite for next year’s World Cup, which is only 11 months away.
That whether they are a favourite for the World Cup isn’t the question here. The question rather is, will England take this series against India in a way that they want to evaluate themselves against arguably the only other team on the same level as them and thereby, put pressure on themselves to do well and win this series? We will know if England are putting themselves under pressure by the approach they take particularly when they bat.
For a change, the focus may not be on India, who have reasons to feel at home with hordes of their fans filling the stadiums and making the most noise and the weather, at this time of the year, being more Indian than English.