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September 8, 2011
A dose of grim autumnal weather is doing its best to write off the one-day leg of India's benighted tour of England, and to judge by the glut of injuries that have plagued the tourists in recent weeks, you'd be forgiven for thinking that they themselves have written the campaign off as a lost cause, with a view to regrouping in their own conditions on the subcontinent in little over a month's time.
However, according to Graeme Swann, the huge turnover of Indian players - with Manoj Tiwary joining the party ahead of Tuesday's 23-over contest at the Rose Bowl, and Ravindra Jadeja now in contention at The Oval - has created a whole new set of challenges, as England seek to extend their current run of dominance to seven wins out of seven completed fixtures when the third ODI starts on Thursday.
"It doesn't feel like the same team we played against three or four weeks ago," said Swann. "We're still learning about this opposition, so we don't go in there thinking: 'We're going to trounce this lot today', we go in thinking, 'we've got a game on our hands each time'. A few of the younger guys are playing with a carefree attitude that is working for them, and it means we are being provided with new challenges."
The players in question include the openers Parthiv Patel and Ajinkya Rahane, whose enterprising attitude at the top of India's order has enabled them to post challenging totals in each of the three limited-overs contests to date. To all intents and purposes, the newcomers also include Suresh Raina, whose 42-ball pair in the fourth Test at The Oval was the culmination of a grim Test series, but whose returns in coloured clothing have been the work of a reborn cricketer. Since that date, he has amassed 111 runs from 67 balls, including a brisk 40 from 19 at the Rose Bowl.
"It could have been he just woke up one morning and thought, 'sod this, I'm going to smack the ball around', or it could have been the 42-ball pair here that made him walk off and think 'never again'," said Swann. "You never know, but he's certainly been very exciting, and he looks a completely different player. Some of his hitting the other night was spectacular to watch even on the field, and it must have been great for the Indian fans off it, because I know there were a lot in the crowd."
Despite the best efforts of the weather, the interest in the series remains significant, with a sizeable majority of the Rose Bowl crowd sitting tight for five-and-a-half hours on Tuesday in the hope of witnessing what turned out to be an entertaining, albeit curtailed, contest. For England, who have experienced a slackening-off of ambition at this time of year in the past - not least during their 6-1 drubbing against Australia two years ago - the determination to offer no let-up is plain, as they seek to deny India even a consolation victory to take away from the tour.
"We've played some unbelievable cricket this summer, especially in the Test matches, so we don't want the one-day series to be a bit of a damp squib at the end," said Swann. "It was that in 2009 [after the Ashes victory], and although it didn't take the polish off for any of the players, I'm sure it did for a few people watching. It's important we carry on the momentum, not least for the guys who've come in for the one-day squad, because we want all three forms of the game to be going in the right direction in the next few years."
Another reason to keep up the intensity is the fact that the return ODI series against India is already looming large. The first of five matches gets underway in Hyderabad on October 14, and seeing as England were panned 5-0 on their last trip in November 2008 (and would surely have lost 7-0 but for the abandonment of the last two matches) there's plenty at stake for this squad.
"It would be massive to win in India, but we've got to cross that bridge when we get to it," said Swann. "We certainly don't look at it as one series, because these are two contrasting conditions. I don't think you can take late September in England, in these damp squib conditions, compared to what it'll be like in India where it's really hot, and the India players will feel much more at home."
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Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge