India aiming to avert slide
Match factsJanuary 11, 2013
Start time 1200 (0630 GMT)
Big PictureThere seems to be no bottom to the abyss India are hurtling into. It seems like only yesterday when they had to just turn up, and a home series, Test or ODI, was theirs. Now they have lost a series in each format in succession, to England and Pakistan. It also seems like only yesterday when India whitewashed England 5-0 in successive home bilateral ODI series. If you are gullible enough to bet on a similar result in this five-match ODI series, you might as well wager on a flood in water-scarce Saurashtra in January.
It is supposedly a side in transition but, apart from Ajinkya Rahane, all the batsmen in India's ODI squad have been around for years now. The same cannot be said of their bowling attack, but that has more to do with the continuing injury sagas of their fast bowlers than anything else. And it was the batting that let India down in all three ODIs against Pakistan.
By no means can you call England's pace attack for this series experienced, but they don't lack in either skill or speed. For an India line-up that was exposed by Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan, with a collective 15 ODIs between them going into the series last month, England's pace battery led by the impressive Steven Finn will pose an equal, if not a bigger, challenge.
The visitors are looking forward to building towards the Champions Trophy at home later this year and ultimately the World Cup in 2015 but, before that, they have their woeful record in their previous three ODI series in India to correct. One win in 16 games does no self-respecting modern side justice, especially one of England's calibre and meticulous planning. Their new limited-overs coach Ashley Giles had no insignificant role to play when England drew an ODI series here in 2002 and, despite defeats in their two warm-up games this time, he'll sorely want to improve on that finish from a decade ago.
Form guide(Most recent first)
In the spotlightWith Virender Sehwag dropped, Ajinkya Rahane should get to open the India innings along with Gautam Gambhir. The amount of time Rahane's spent on the bench can be gauged from his solitary ODI appearance in all of 2012. Even that came as an afterthought in Sri Lanka after the series had been won. Still, England are a side Rahane must be pretty familiar with. They were the opposition in the first 10 of his 13 ODIs and he's already played a few eye-catching knocks against them, including a 91 in late 2011 in Mohali.
Steven Finn began and ended the Test leg of the ongoing tour with injuries but his lone outing in Kolkata was enough to serve another reminder of his talent, and the unique combination of pace and bounce his gangling frame brings. India have long suffered at the hands of those attributes and, if Finn manages to stay clear of another breakdown, will be put to the test again.
Team newsHe may have made a double- and a triple-century in his previous two Ranji Trophy games, but it is unlikely that Cheteshwar Pujara will make his ODI debut in front of his hometown fans in Rajkot. Transition or not, the batting line-up looks far too settled at the moment. With the new ODI rules making it tough to manage with just four frontline bowlers, India could stick to the side that won the final one-dayer against Pakistan.
India (possible) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Ajinkya Rahane, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Shami Ahmed.
With James Tredwell and Finn likely to be the frontline spin and pace choices, England have a couple of fast-bowling places to fill. Jade Dernbach, with his variations, is an important option in India, while Stuart Meaker's extra speed could push him in front of Chris Woakes.
England (possible) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Ian Bell, 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Eoin Morgan, 5 Samit Patel, 6 Craig Kieswetter (wk), 7 Tim Bresnan, 8 James Tredwell, 9 Stuart Meaker, 10 Jade Dernbach, 11 Steven Finn.
Pitch and conditionsThe Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Khandheri, outside Rajkot, is making its international debut. The city has hosted 11 ODIs at the Madhavrao Scindia ground owned by the municipal corporation. The grounds may be different but if it is Rajkot, indications point to bucket-loads of runs. The Challenger Trophy, India's premier domestic one-day competition, produced five totals of 300-plus in four games at the SCA stadium in late 2012. The most recent fixture here was the Ranji Trophy match between Saurashtra and Madhya Pradesh, a match the hosts needed to win to make the knockouts. Accordingly, a dry, slow, and low pitch was prepared, but don't expect anything of the sort for an ODI.
Winter in Rajkot isn't as unforgiving as it is in north India. Evenings are cool and pleasant, while it gets warm during the day. Nights can turn slightly chilly, but with a noon start, we won't get that far.
Stats and trivia
- The only time England have beaten India in an ODI series in India was back in 1984-85.
- The Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium on the outskirts of Rajkot will become India's 41st ODI venue.
Quotes"We'll have to wait and watch. It's not something that's on my mind right now, before the start of an important series. We can't be thinking about that now."
MS Dhoni on giving up the limited-overs captaincy
"Clearly we are the underdogs in this series but, if you look through our side, we have a lot of firepower and world-class players."
Alastair Cook believes his inexperienced side could cause a surprise
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo