Richard Sydenham - An English view

Two, young, and revitalised outfits, should make the India-England ODI series a fascinating contest

Thursday, November 06, 2021
A cracker is on the cards

It might have been inconceivable only six months ago that England would be going into a one-day series in India as favourites but this is probably the position they now find themselves in.

The 4-0 demolition of South Africa in September – it could have been a 5-0 sweep if the Cardiff rain had relented - was proof that under Kevin Pietersen’s new regime, the 50-over format is no longer a game that is merely an insignificant sideshow for England. It has so often appeared as an irrelevant rubber preceding or closing a Test series. A 'Let's get this silly stuff out of the way and play some proper cricket' kind of attitude.

During Michael Vaughan’s reign, it was no surprise that one-day cricket was a disappointment as far as results went for England because it was a clear reflection of how he coped with that format. It will be a mystery even 50 years from now as to why such a quality Test performer like Vaughan can take apart Warne and McGrath in their own backyard yet consistently fail so miserably in one-day cricket.

Even his successor Paul Collingwood, renowned for his ability to finish matches for England with his cool head under pressure, admitted when he resigned the post that captaincy affected his batting; results too.

But all those years of underachievement – or “shambles” as Nasser Hussain called England’s recent World Cup efforts – could be a thing of the past if Pietersen can maintain the current spirit in what is mostly a young, energetic team with a few ‘old’ heads like Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Collingwood.

The aggression, vitality, skill and tempo of the team dismantled a strong South Africa, though like its injured skipper Graeme Smith commented, they had focused almost solely on winning the Test series and as good as neglected the one-day series. But that should not detract from what Pietersen has started.

Where Smith is spot on was his point that Pietersen’s biggest challenge would be on tour, especially in India when he and the players are out of their comfort zones and having to cope and succeed in uncompromising, difficult conditions.

But if they can shake off the negativities of what happened in Antigua last week and the fact they lost $1 million each – cleanse all that from their minds and bodies – and acclimatise to Indian conditions quickly, England do certainly have a team capable of winning this seven-match one-day series in India.

In openers Ian Bell and Matt Prior, they have an accumulator and an aggressor giving a good balance to the top of the innings; at three is the majestic stroke-player Owais Shah, ever-improving and buoyed by a Test debut innings of 88 in Mumbai in 2006. Pietersen and Flintoff provide a potentially damaging combination at four and five with the ability to take apart any attack, and Flintoff is now showing signs of better shot selection and seemingly a plan to build an innings rather than hurry one.

All-rounder Collingwood sits nicely at six, adding his Jonty-esque fielding and useful medium-pace bowling; all-rounders Ravi Bopara and Luke Wright will jostle for the number seven position along with left-arm spinner and attacking batsman Samit Patel – players who should all have lengthy international futures in 20 and 50-over international cricket if not Test.

Graeme Swann’s off-spin should receive helpful assistance from the dry Indian pitches and he is an under-rated player to watch who often spins the ball more than Monty Panesar though lacks the same control.

The seam attack of Harmison, Flintoff, Stuart Broad and James Anderson is possibly the best attack in world cricket now in both Test and one-day cricket and would be rated better than the home attack by most judges. Ryan Sidebottom, on the tour but currently injured, is another option giving left-arm variation.

While the rejuvenated Harmison, fresh from a one-day retirement u-turn, and the fit-again Flintoff provide speedy penetration, Anderson is now swinging the ball both ways by some distance with a shrewd intellect that accounted for Smith in the fourth Test when he followed five out-swingers to the left-hander with an in-swinger to trap him lbw. Chris Gayle laughed on hearing he had been omitted from the Antigua clash.

Broad, meantime, may become the best all-rounder in the world in another two or three years having continued to improve his bowling over the last English season. Broad, who started as a batsman, should eventually bat no lower than seven and is likely to settle on a Glenn McGrath-like pace, line and length. Not a bad package. The final man in the squad Alastair Cook is battling to prove he is not just a Test batsman like Andrew Strauss was unable to do, but he is unlikely to get the chance if the team remains injury-free.

With India also introducing a new generation, showcased and undoubtedly helpfully exposed by the IPL, the upcoming series should be a cracker!