Is it the future, or is it, simply, the present, and the reality of a looming T20 World Cup? England rested and rotated all through the Test leg of this India tour, but now they’re at close to full strength for the T20I series.
These five matches, therefore, come with a sense of urgency that a lot of bilateral T20I series lack. England, possibly the world’s best T20I side, are giving all their stars a run-out in Indian conditions before the big event in October. Along the way, they’ll subject India to the most rigorous litmus test for where they stand in this format.
India, for their part, have only lost two of their last 15 completed T20Is. It’s a formidable record, indicative of a side that has most bases covered, but the big question for them to answer is how they’ll do when they meet a really good hitting team – such as this England line-up – in a knockout game on a flat pitch, particularly when asked to bat first.
It’s evident, from the make-up of their squad for this series, that they’re looking to assemble the firepower for that sort of scenario. Suryakumar Yadav – an innovative, 360-degree player – Ishan Kishan – IPL 2020’s most prolific six-hitter – and the recalled Rishabh Pant bring extra muscle to a middle order that already includes Hardik Pandya, and the addition of Rahul Tewatia – whose fitness status is as yet unclear – gives them a third option for the spin-bowling allrounder’s role, more explosive with the bat than either Axar Patel or Washington Sundar. With Shardul Thakur potentially at No. 8, this is a team with a good amount of batting depth, so the biggest question for India, as always, is whether their top three can bat with a little more adventure and a little less fear of getting out.
Can India, in short, be more like England?
England, for their part, will need to find a way to be more like India – with the ball. Among all Full Member teams, England have the worst T20I economy rate since the start of 2018 (India are fourth-best). If they can’t find a way to rectify that issue on Indian pitches – particularly given the injury doubts surrounding Jofra Archer – other teams will ruthlessly target their bowlers come the T20 World Cup.
India LWWWW (last five completed T20Is, most recent first)
Rohit: Pant is starting to understand game-situations better now
In the spotlight
He’s put an indifferent IPL behind him, he’s “worked his backside off” – in the words of his coach Ravi Shastri – to bring his fitness up to speed, he’s improved his wicketkeeping beyond recognition, and he’s played four outstanding innings in the space of seven Tests to once again have the world at his feet. He’s earned a T20I recall too, and India will hope Rishabh Pant can do to England’s bowlers in white-ball cricket what he did to James Anderson when he bowled to him with a new red ball at the same venue last week.
It’s mindboggling that no team went for Jason Roy at the IPL auction, but this may have had something to do with a perceived weakness against spin. In his limited time in the IPL – a combined seven innings in the 2017 and 2018 seasons – he struggled against spin, averaging 12.40 and striking at 110.71, while returning corresponding figures of 117.00 and 150.00 against pace. Through this series, Roy will hope to show the teams that rejected him that he has the game to succeed against spin in Indian conditions.
Varun Chakravarthy is set to miss the series after failing his mandatory fitness test, while there are doubts over the availability of Rahul Tewatia and T Natarajan. Given all this, the bowling attack is likely to include one of Axar Patel and Washington Sundar, and a possible three-way battle between Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar for two spots. It also remains unclear where Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav will fit in the middle order, but the biggest selection headache for India will involve their openers: which two among Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul will fill the top two slots? Virat Kohli, without confirming the XI, said on match eve that Rohit and Rahul remained India’s first-choice T20I openers.
India (possible): 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 KL Rahul, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 Shreyas Iyer, 5 Rishabh Pant (wk), 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Axar Patel/Washington Sundar, 8 Shardul Thakur, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Navdeep Saini.
Jofra Archer’s recurring elbow issue is the main concern England have going into the series-opener. They have a wealth of fast-bowling options to select from, though, with Mark Wood, Tom Curran and Reece Topley all in contention should the need arise.
England (possible): 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jos Buttler (wk), 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Jonny Bairstow, 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Eoin Morgan (capt), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Sam Curran, 9 Chris Jordan, 10 Jofra Archer/Mark Wood, 11 Adil Rashid.
Pitch and conditions
A far more batting-friendly surface can be expected at Motera than the ones served up for the third and fourth Tests, though the pitches that hosted the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20s here in January did help the spinners. The slower bowlers in that tournament averaged 32.00 on this ground and had an overall economy rate of 6.67, with the quicks managing corresponding figures of 24.02 and 7.55. Of the seven matches played here, five were won by the chasing team, suggesting dew may have had an influence.
Stats and trivia
- India and England are dead even in terms of their T20I head-to-head: they’ve each won seven and lost seven. India, however, have come out on top in four of the last five meetings.
- Virat Kohli needs 72 runs to become the first batsman to score 3000 T20I runs.
- Dawid Malan and Eoin Morgan have done extraordinarily well as a T20I partnership. They’ve put on two century stands and two half-century stands in eight innings, and average 66.37 as a pair while scoring at a whopping 11.46 per over. This makes them the fourth-quickest-scoring partnership among all pairs who’ve put on at least 200 runs together.
“No, I don’t agree with that [India being the team to beat at the upcoming T20 World Cup]. They [England] are the No. 1 [T20I] team in the world and the prime focus will be on them. All the other teams will be wary of the strength that they bring onto the park and every other team will agree with what I say.”India’s Virat Kohli
“Wicket looks good, depends what the groundsman chooses to do between today and tomorrow.”England’s Eoin Morgan
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo