England v India, 1st ODI, Southampton August 20, 2007

Stage set for heroes' return

Yuvraj Singh will finally play some cricket after sitting out of the Test series © AFP
The longest bilateral one-day series ever to take place in this country will feature two teams at different stages of development. England are rebuilding, as they have been for a number of years; India, as they tend to do quite often, are trying to put their one-day team back on track.

England are the home team and some of their players have been involved in domestic one-dayers recently, yet they're hoping for "an upset". India's one-day side was in shambles a few months ago - imploding at the World Cup and making heavy weather of Bangladesh - yet they start red-hot favourites. A strange game, this.

The Independent on Sunday proclaimed the 'Return of Flintoff and Bopara can avert whitewash'. It added, "anything closer than a scoreline of 2-5 could be considered progress for the home side." Here is a side that entered the Super Eights in the World Cup and overcame Australia on their own turf before that. India couldn't manage the first and haven't accomplished the second in ages. Surely England can't be that bad.

Especially not after the return of Andrew Flintoff who, as it turns out, is two cricketers in one body. "It's like having two players in one," said England's captain Paul Collingwood. "Freddie will bat at No. 6, and he is looking to get back and bowl his full 10 overs. It helps pretty much in getting the balance of the team and he's a world-class performer as well. I am sure he is ready for the challenges in international cricket."

Preceding him in the line-up will be Collingwood himself, following him will probably be Ravi Bopara, who wants to emulate Sachin Tendulkar. The top four is likely to figure a wicketkeeper who loves to chatter (Matt Prior), a makeshift opener whose batting is all prim and proper (Ian Bell), a wristy dasher who could be king (Owais Shah), and an iconoclast who already is one (Kevin Pietersen). Surely this is a line-up that should aim for more than simply "cause an upset". Where's all the aggression that was the flavour of the Tests?

Is it all a cunning plan to plan to get to India, a side still on the mend after a disastrous World Cup. Their fast-bowling options are limited and their fielding lethargic. Their batsmen have guided them recently but it's no secret that they're prone to collapses. They're light years ahead in terms of experience - having in their ranks three batsmen with more than 10,000 runs in this format - but will still be challenged in these conditions.

One of the greatest opening acts in one-day history, Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, are set to go in first. Rahul Dravid will shore up the lower order at No.5, "ensuring we're not top-heavy", but it's one man in between who will need to rise to the occasion. He's the torch-bearer for the next generation and it's now and here that he needs to move out of the shadows.

"We want to give Yuvraj Singh a lot of opportunities," said Dravid, "He's an exciting one-day player and it will be better for his development and ours as a team. During the course of this series, we want to give him opportunities to bat a lot more overs and show he can win matches on his own."

So the message is clear: Freddie and Yuvi. We missed you in the Tests but make sure you stand up here. We're all too exhausted after a challenging summer and can't imagine going through seven one-day games. The series is dying for new heroes. Take it away boys.

England (likely) 1 Matt Prior (wk), 2 Ian Bell, 3 Owais Shah, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood (capt), 6 Andrew Flintoff, 7 Ravi Bopara, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Monty Panesar, 10 James Anderson, 11 Chris Tremlett

India (likely) 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 Sourav Ganguly, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Rahul Dravid (capt), 6 Dinesh Karthik, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Piyush Chawla, 9 Ajit Agarkar, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 RP Singh

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo