Lucknow: The war cries of India’s first war of independence still echothrough the walls of this historic city, reminding the bloody colonial past. While many parts of India, mostly in the north, went up in arms against the British, it was Lucknow that put up the stiffest resistance needing months of brutal assault to quell the uprising. It’s hard not to recollect this past when buoyant India take on a floundering England for the first time in any format in men’s cricket.
Having slumped to their fourth defeat in five matches, the defending champions have never looked so vulnerable in the last four years, starting from their triumphant campaign in the 2019 World Cup at home. Where Eoin Morgan and his team embraced a fearless brand of cricket — ODIs “Bazball”, if you like — en route their maiden 50-over World Cup, the current team under Jos Buttler appears confused with trepidation often curtailing their free-spirited play at the first hint of pressure.
India, on the other hand, are playing a refreshing brand of cricket. While their skipper has provided them sparkling starts in almost all matches, the middle-order has never seemed more solid. India start clear favourites but they know it’s not yet the time to let your guard down.
KL Rahul, the team’s deputy in the absence of Hardik Pandya, dropped a hint or two when he said it would be nice to test themselves by batting first. Though every aspect of their game has looked near flawless, India would be keen — if not desperate — bat first and understand the pace at which they have to bat before they encounter such a situation in a knockout game. Whether by choice or not, India have chased in all their five previous matches.
Talking of Hardik, it would be hard for India to ignore Mohammed Shami, who was awarded the man of the match against New Zealand for his fifer in his first outing of the tournament. Given the sluggish nature of the surface here at Ekana Stadium, India would be tempted to include R Ashwin in place of Suryakumar Yadav but that would be too much of a compromise with their batting depth.
While England haverapidly unravelled in remarkable fashion, no one can deny the class in their ranks. It’s almost the same set of players that won the same tournament for them in 2019 and then the T20 World Cup in Australia last year, making them the only team to hold both the World Cups simultaneously. English batters have been the bigger culprits in their underwhelming performance so far, and they have a chance to redeem themselves with nothing to lose going forward, a fact India would be wary of.
PLAYERS IN FOCUS
Rahul returns to the scene which he left injured during an IPL match between Lucknow Super Giants and Royal Challengers Bangalore. Having been sidelined for months following a surgery, the designated wicketkeeper-batter comes back as one of India’s best performers in the tournament so far. Few players in this Indian team know the conditions better than the LSG skipper, and he will have some inputs to offer for the team.
Shubman Gill will be another player who will be watched with great interest. The opener, since his return to the playing 11 from dengue, has produced some stylish cameos, showing the kind of touch he is in, but the right-hander needs to translate them into bigger ones.
England’s batting has floundered collectively. Barring Dawid Malan’ston against Bangladesh and four other individual half-centuries, their batters have nothing much to show far – a damning statistics for line-up with such a batting cast. It would be interesting to see if they would bring back Harry Brook who was left out against Sri Lanka. Whether it’s strategy or panic within the camp, England have chopped and changed their side giving little time and sense of security for the players to build any sort of rhythm. PITCH/CONDITIONS
Going by the past, the pitch here tends to play slow and low with spinners having a major say. With forecast reading zero precipitation, an uninterrupted play can be expected.
INDIA: WWWWWENGLAND: WLWWW
INDIA: Rohit Sharma (captain), K.L. Rahul (wicket-keeper), Virat Kohli, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur and Kuldeep Yadav.
ENGLAND: Jos Buttler (captain & wicket-keeper), Joe Root, Harry Brook, Dawid Malan, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Liam Livingstone, Sam Curran, David Willey, Chris Woakes, Jonny Bairstow, Mark Wood, Gus Atkinson, Adil Rashid and Brydon Carse.
(Published 28 October 2023, 14:44 IST)