England in India 2011-12 October 13, 2011

Series a test for Cook-Flower combination

Alastair Cook's goal is to revive England's one-day record, something that no captain has really been able to do over an extended period for close to 20 years. A hat-trick of series wins would be a decent way to start

When Alastair Cook spoke to the media before flying out to India last week he talked about "my side" and the players "he wants" to take England's one-day side forward. His first summer in charge of the 50-over side - or, rather, about six weeks as Cook pointed out himself - couldn't really have gone much better. Series wins against Sri Lanka and India, the two World Cup finalists, are impressive additions to his CV while his success, and adaptability, with the bat surprised many.

It is always dangerous to look too far ahead when it comes to England's one-day cricket - many a poor World Cup has been followed by a brief false dawn under a new captain - but alongside Andy Flower there is a feeling something can be different this time as Cook shapes a team to challenge at the 2015 tournament in Australia and New Zealand. His tone at the Heathrow press conference was of a man with a strong vision, clear thoughts and a confidence that they can work.

Time will tell, and there will be more than a few stumbling blocks along the way, but the next three weeks in India will give a better indication of where the Cook-Flower development currently stands. The 3-0 series win at home was a commendable result, but as much as it showed many impressive qualities - the rejuvenation of Ravi Bopara, debut of Jonny Bairstow and pace of Steven Finn among them - there were also reminders of how far England's one-day game needs to come. More reliability is required during the death overs, they still haven't quite cracked Powerplay batting (particularly when setting a score) and Cook needs to hone his judgement of when it's worth maintaining pressure in the field. However, nobody said there would be easy fixes.

Again England will be pitted against a weakened India side but, this time, conditions won't be in their favour. India's scars from their dreadful tour, though, will remain and that is an opportunity England can seize. Throughout India's defeat-filled three months the common theme - more from the supporters, it must be said, than the players - was 'wait until we get you in our back yard.' That could well prove true, but an early defeat for India, in their first home internationals since the World Cup final, and the pressure (and anger) will quickly grow.

Like India, England are not at full strength with injuries to Stuart Broad and Eoin Morgan, two key ODI players, while James Anderson has been rested. It means a chance to further test out the much-vaunted depth in the English game that was often on show during the recent home season. Kevin Pietersen is back (perhaps for a final chance to revive his ODI career) and brings some experience to the middle order, but the likes of Bopara, Bairstow, Finn, Jade Dernbach and Scott Borthwick are key parts of England's future.

The series will test England in all departments and they will need to quickly adapt to the surfaces they encounter. It will only be a matter of time before debate resumes about the top three which will include Cook and Jonathan Trott. The latter, despite an average of 51.48 and strike-rate of 78.35, is often the focus of attention and how he adjusts his game-plan to a situation will show how he's evolving as a one-day batsman. Cook has also hinted at a degree of flexibility in the order.

Pietersen presents his own fascination, but there's also the case of Ian Bell. He can lay claim to being England's best Test batsman after a prolific 12 months, yet he hasn't cemented a one-day berth. Being shunted around the order hasn't helped and he found himself at No. 6 against Sri Lanka which, he admitted, wasn't ideal but when given a run at No. 4 against India continued the tendency to waste good starts. It's difficult to see where he fits in the batting line-up especially with Bairstow's form demanding selection.

England require more reliability during the death overs, they still haven't quite cracked Powerplay batting (particularly when setting a score) and Cook needs to hone his judgement of when it's worth maintaining pressure in the field.

With the ball Cook will rely on the experience of Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann. The captain will have to be aware of when to use his key bowlers now that the new regulations have altered when Powerplays can be taken and also the impact of a ball at either end. Dernbach's box of allsorts will prove valuable on flat pitches, but he needs to ensure the slower ball doesn't become the norm as batsmen can set themselves.

Finn, meanwhile, will likely complete the pace attack to leave Chris Woakes and Stuart Meaker waiting for their opportunities although both, along with Borthwick, impressed in the warm-ups. England view Finn as being a key bowler for 2015 where he can exploit the bouncier Australian surfaces and these one-dayers will show how much subtlety is being added to his raw skills.

The inclusion, on both sides, of some fresh faces (and absence of household names) has helped give this series an interest that it may otherwise have lacked. England-India is never without bite, but five more ODIs and another T20 on the back of the recent contests test the limits of endurance. International cricket needs the best playing each other, yet that needs to be balanced with retaining the uniqueness of the contest. It's a danger faced with the overload of England-Australia contests in the next three years and you don't want marquee series to lose their edge because they are too commonplace.

That, though, won't be an issue occupying Cook's mind at the moment. His goal is to revive England's one-day record, something that no captain has really been able to do over an extended period for close to 20 years. A hat-trick of series wins would be a decent way to start.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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