The third instalment of one of white-ball cricket’s most compelling rivalries resumes on Tuesday. England, laggards in T20Is for long despite having a World Cup crown, have torn down templates and laid down the marker in the Eoin Morgan era. India, winners of the inaugural edition, have only now realised the need to go back to the very formula that brought them success in South Africa all those years ago: youngsters.
While this isn’t to say there is no place for experienced players, the presence of fresher legs, dynamic players coming in with rich IPL experience and without the fear of failure seems to have given this side a new perspective, a refreshing change from the recent past. It is something England, who many including Virat Kohli believe are favourites for the T20 World Cup in October-November, simply can’t look past.
The story of England’s tour, beyond their Chennai heroics, has been one of disappointment. Their rest and rotation policy has come in for sharp focus from the outside, even if they may be clear of their priorities from within. All said and done, they have a settled squad, and a combination that can tear down any opponent on a day.
Jos Buttler. Jason Roy. Dawid Malan. Morgan. Ben Stokes. Moeen Ali. Jonny Bairstow. These are all blockbuster cricketers, who will all be up against each other on this very ground in a month’s time. For now though, there is a series at stake, the first step for which they can take on Tuesday should they win. So far, both games have been won by the side batting second. While there hasn’t been heavy dew, conditions have slightly eased out for the side chasing, which makes the toss vital. Will it be three in three then for the chasing side?
(Last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Virat Kohli was emphatic when he said KL Rahul is one of India’s first-choice openers in T20Is. Now with two failures behind him and a resting Rohit Sharma ready to come in, Rahul needs a score, even if there may not be an imminent threat to his place. However, it is undeniable that the competition at the top of the order is stifling, with Ishan Kishan becoming the latest entrant into the roulette. Rahul has been in two bubbles across the last five months. He didn’t play the Australia Tests; wasn’t chosen for the England Tests either. Would it have made better sense for the management to have rested him or even just allowed him some match-time for Karnataka at the Vijay Hazare Trophy? Answers we may not have for now, but either way, he’ll need to find form quickly.
Moeen Ali had an excellent second Test before flying home to elicit the rest-rotation debate. He’s now back after two weeks at home, but couldn’t get a look in for the first two matches. Ali is no stranger to Indian conditions, having toured here twice earlier apart from having had a full IPL season with the Royal Challengers Bangalore. With the surface likely to offer more turn and India potentially having two left-hand batsmen – Kishan and Rishabh Pant – in the top five, Morgan could be tempted to bank on Ali’s offspin in addition to the batting depth he offers.
Kohli said at the toss of the series opener that Rohit Sharma was rested for the first two games, so he might slot in on Tuesday, for Rahul.
India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma/KL Rahul, 2 Ishan Kishan, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 Rishabh Pant (wk), 5 Shreyas Iyer, 6 Suryakumar Yadav, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Washington Sundar, 9 Shardul Thakur, 10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal
Mark Wood missed the second T20I with a bruised heel, but Morgan said the injury was “not a big worry”. “Hopefully he’ll be available for the game in two days’ time, but if not, the fourth match,” Morgan said on Sunday hoping for Wood’s return. Given the surface – and red soil instead of black soil – Morgan expects spin to play a big part, which could pave way for Ali’s inclusion at the expense of Tom Curran. If Wood is fit, they may have to leave out Chris Jordan as well.
England (probable): 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jos Buttler (wk), 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Jonny Bairstow, 5 Eoin Morgan (capt), 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Sam Curran, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Mark Wood/Chris Jordan
Pitch and conditions
The match will be played on a red-soil deck. While it may not be crumbly, there will definitely be more turn on offer. This is something Morgan alluded to while speaking of the changes they may be forced to make for Tuesday’s fixture.
Stats and trivia
- Kohli’s unbeaten 73 on Saturday was his 26th T20I fifty, the most in T20I history. Vice-captain Rohit Sharma is next best with 22, while Ireland’s Paul Stirling and Australia’s David Warner are joint-third with 18 half-centuries.
- Ben Stokes has struggled for batting rhythm so far. Since 2018, his death overs strike rate is pegged at 140, having been dismissed ten times. This is in sharp contrast to his death overs numbers when he has opened: 52 runs off 23 balls at a strike rate of 226. This isn’t to suggest he should open, but it just proves perhaps batting higher up gives him the best chance of exploding at the death. For a minimum of 100 balls faced, Morgan has the best strike rate: 227.64 at the death. That’s 494 runs in 217 balls with 14 dismissals.
- England have successfully defended a score of 180 or less only once since the T20 World Cup in 2016.
“I had to shift the focus back to the basics of the game. Probably thinking of too many variables from the outside. The management spoke to me about things. Anushka [Sharma, his wife] is here so she also keeps speaking to me about things. I had a special chat with AB de Villiers before the game. He told me to just watch the ball. That’s exactly what I did.”
Virat Kohli after hitting a match-winning half-century in the second T20I
“The next game is on the red soil that looks like Ayers Rock, so it’s probably going to turn. These are the challenges that we want to play against. Regardless of how we do in the series we want to learn as much as we can and get that experience under our belt for the World Cup.”
Eoin Morgan is under no illusion on what England will come up against on Tuesday
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo