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January 21, 2013
Ian Bell has acknowledged that England's top-order batsmen will have to perform far better if they are regain a footing in the ODI series against India. England suffered their second crushing loss in succession in the third ODI on Saturday to allow India to take a 2-1 lead with two games to play and Bell knows that, with England having been bowled out for totals of 158 and 155, they will need to improve substantially if they are to prevent India securing a series victory in Wednesday's game in Mohali.
It is no coincidence that England won the first game of the series following a dominant performance from their top-order. Bell and Alastair Cook posted an opening stand of 158 within 28 overs to allow the middle-order to accelerate in the later stages of the innings.
While Bell accepted that India's opening bowlers had performed admirably in the last couple of games, he stressed the need for one of England's top-order to bat through most of the innings to provide a platform for the middle-order. He hopes that the cooler conditions in Mohali might benefit England.
"If we are going to get 150, that's not going to challenge India at all in these conditions," Bell said. "We need to get runs on the board and get a senior batsman batting for the majority of the overs.
"We haven't done that in the last two games and if we do that we can push India. In the final two games we need to get into a position to hurt India at the back end of the innings.
"Their opening bowlers are very good," he added. "They have plenty of skills and swing the ball both ways. They have made us work really hard. But we need a foundation for our big hitters in the middle to get us going.
"It's a little bit more familiar here than the last couple of games and obviously that's nice. It's been very nice here, very English really. That sure helps everyone."
The situation also presents the first significant test of Ashley Giles' new career as an international coach. While Giles' first series as England's limited-overs coach was always likely to prove demanding - England's limited-overs record in India offered little room for optimism - the extent of the last two defeats has been alarming.
But, while Giles will consider changes to the England side ahead of the fourth match, he is also keen not to over-react. He knows, both from the ups and downs of his time as an international player and from his time as director of cricket at Warwickshire, that a calm appraisal of such adversity is infinitely preferable to any hint of panic or knee-jerk reaction.
"I never, or probably only a couple of times, stamped my feet when I was at Warwickshire," Giles said. "If the coach is on an emotional rollercoaster you end up with a team that is second guessing what your reaction will be if you win or lose. That's not how I want to be.
"Honesty is the important thing. You have to analyse where you've gone wrong, look at your personnel, pull those things together and ask 'are we getting it right? Is this the right mix? Are they the right people?' That's the unemotional way of looking at it.
"The hairdryer treatment works occasionally but not very often, not if you're in it for the long term. If I did that after my third game, there would be a lot of worry."
However, Giles did provide the strongest hint yet that there may be changes to the England side. Concern over Craig Kieswetter's form - though it has not been much worse than Eoin Morgan's - has raised the possibility to him making way for his Somerset team-mate, Jos Buttler, though doubts about the latter's wicketkeeping could count against him.
While England's batting has been their main downfall in the last couple of matches there will also be a temptation to make some changes to the bowling attack. Jade Dernbach has conceded his runs at a cost of an average cost of 7.79 an over in the series to date and, after 21 ODIs, concedes more runs per over than anyone to have bowled over 1,000 ODI deliveries: an average 6.28 runs per over. Mohali may provide an opportunity to take a look at Stuart Meaker.
"That statistic is tough on Jade because he's played a lot of cricket in India and it's a hard place to come and play," Giles said. "But again you have to adapt. What the Indians have done very well is hold lengths and lines, so you have to go at them to try to score. Really that's what we've got to do."
Perhaps the most obvious message to England in the series to date is how much they miss Jonathan Trott. England won 12 out of 13 ODIs involving Trott in 2012 and, in that time, were never dismissed for under 200. In three out of four games without him, however, they have failed to reach 200 and been defeated in all three. Rested for this part of the tour, he returns to the side in New Zealand.
In his absence, England might promote Joe Root to bat at No. 3. Root has faced more deliveries than any other England batsman in the last two games and might offer stability at the top of the order and provide Morgan and Kevin Pietersen with some protection from the newer balls. Long-term, though, Root is the only member of the top five unlikely to feature in England's Champions Trophy side, so Giles is expecting more from his experienced players.
"Changes are something that myself, Alastair Cook and the coaches will talk about," Giles said. "We've got options and part of this trip is to look at those options, because we're missing some senior players. This is where you find out about people, under pressure.
"This group has been very refreshing and what we want to avoid is them just feeling beaten up. We have to pick the best team to win the next game of cricket. That will be a hot topic over the next day or two."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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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
Plays of the day from the tri-series match between Zimbabwe and South Africa
Would he have fared better than the incumbent middle-order batsmen, Root and Ballance?