The World Cup is still two years away and India have been on the record saying that ODIs are their lowest priority this year, so it is not surprising for this ODI series to have the feel of a space filler before the IPL. However, there was enough on display on Tuesday
to see two sides working on how they want to play this format.
England are the leaders of change in this format. India are not quite aping them but they are looking to catch up without taking the kind of risks that can result in the kind of defeat England tasted on the night: a collapse from 135 for 0 in 14 overs to 251 all out when some might call for a more circumspect approach to chasing a sub-par total.
The difference between these two teams is stark, and best summed up by the opening combinations. England's is a once-in-a-generation dream team of Jason Roy
and Jonny Bairstow
. Their opening partnership averages 60.45 and goes at 7.04 an over. They are an upgrade on the only two other opening combinations who managed to average 50 and score at over a run a ball: Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir (50.54 per dismissal and 6.42 an over) and Brendon McCullum and Jesse Ryder (50.9 and 6.4).
More importantly, Roy and Bairstow are well above their contemporaries, giving England a significant head start. The two came together as openers in September 2017. During the Roy-Bairstow era, India have been among the top three ODI sides, but their openers - Shikhar Dhawan
and Rohit Sharma
- average 41.88 and go at 5.29 an over.
Consequently England kill many ODIs early in the game. During this period, their average 10-over score has been 60 as against India's 50. The difference is starker when the sides are batting first, which is trickier than ever when you run the risk of aiming too low. England's average 10-over score when batting first has been 59 as opposed to India's 46. With a target guiding them, India close this gap: it's 53 India and 62 England when chasing.
India tend to take fewer risks early, like to take games deep and then score big at the end. England spread the attacking duties and want to break open games earlier than in the final overs. In this ODI, 39 for 0 in 10 overs from Dhawan and Rohit was in part owed to tricky conditions - Dhawan said the ball swung and seamed early - but it is not like India were going to bat the way Bairstow and Roy did later in the day. However, there were signs later that India are looking to shed the conservatism.
Virat Kohli is the most efficient run machine in ODI cricket: he has finetuned his game to score reasonably quickly while taking no risks at all. That is why he has a great conversion rate and is destined to go past Sachin Tendulkar's record of 49 ODI centuries. He tends to leave his aerial hits to the end, but here he tried to slog in the 33rd over, perishing for a typically efficient 56 off 60. He could have sleepwalked to a run-a-ball hundred here, but that would have risked what India have been criticised for in the past: leaving runs out there.
In Kohli's approach was acknowledgement that India are looking to change the way they are playing ODI cricket and that the start had been slow. Kohli still said the 317 they got despite a sensational 112-run stand between KL Rahul and Krunal Pandya in 9.3 overs was sub-par.
The collapse that followed Kohli's wicket might have given them reason to question the new approach, but the unlikely win in the end will keep those questions at bay. The questions instead were pointed at England. Could they have been more conservative after the start they got? For England and Eoin Morgan, the answer is no. They will keep attacking the way they did, but will just look to get better at it than on the night.
"When we have bad days with the bat, it can potentially look worse than it is, but we play an aggressive brand of cricket," Morgan said. "We just need to get better and execute better than we did today. When you look at our top seven, we all have scored 60-ball hundreds. It is something we pride ourselves on. To be able to take the attack to the opposition. And that is the way we want to play.
"White-ball cricket as a rule is always on the upward slant: total scores, individual scores, strike rates are always increasing. With an eye on the World Cup, we want to continue to try and push the envelope in that regard. Sometimes that doesn't work because we don't get it right, but for us losing like that is way better than losing by 10 runs playing in a completely different matter that doesn't suit us. It's important for us to reinforce the method that has worked for us over the last five years."
Expect England to wipe this defeat from their memories and set themselves up for another assault come the next ODI. For India there are two ways to look at the result. Some might be thankful they won because otherwise they might have possibly ended up shelving their bolder approach in the middle overs. Others might have hoped for the 40-over defeat that looked likely because that might have forced a more dramatic change to their approach to opening ODI innings. The two remaining ODIs will tell us a bit about how India plan to approach their ODI cricket in the next two years.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo