Bell to miss out as England seek rare triumph in India
About five minutes ago, those who were paying attention will recall, England defeated India in a one-day series. They prevailed in lots of other stuff as well but the one-day triumph at home last month was especially unexpected, not to say gratifying, because India were the newly crowned world champions.
The teams do it all again starting here today at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in the first of another series of five one-dayers, all of them day-night matches. If it is unfortunate that this sequel has come so soon – not even Bollywood and Hollywood do things this quickly when they are on to a good thing – it may be a truer examination of England's progress.
It will not be easy since little is in this part of the world unless you happen to be a dotcom millionaire, but these tourists have a genuine opportunity to win their first limited-overs series in India for 26 years. The team led by David Gower won 4-1 in late 1985. India were world champions then as well.
This is India's homecoming after their great deeds during the World Cup, when 18 months of diligent planning saw them claim the trophy on a thrilling and emotional night in Mumbai. This series should be a kind of victory tour around the country's major cities where it is – for once where England are concerned – being played.
But India have been denied. Only four of the heroes who paraded round the Wankhede Stadium that balmy April evening are in the squad for the first two matches of this series. Others are either injured or out of form.
England, too, are much changed from the bunch who tried and failed to stop India on their march to glory. The outstanding match of the tournament was the high-scoring tie in Bangalore when England and Andrew Strauss matched the 338 of India and Sachin Tendulkar. A maximum of four of the England side from that night will play today.
It is probable that the number will be as few as three because all the intelligence from the camp yesterday suggested that England will omit Ian Bell from their side. Perhaps it shows that England are going places when they can contemplate overlooking their most accomplished player.
But Bell, for all his gifts, attitude and application, has never quite cracked the one-day code. He has not been helped by England's lack of regard to his place in the batting order. In one-day matches this year alone, Bell has batted at two, three, four, five and six, a degree of flexibility being expected which his unquestionable talents do not embrace.
For Bell the problem is that other, younger men hit bigger, longer shots. If Jonny Bairstow is the obvious example of the moment, there are others such as Jos Buttler, who is staying with the party until the solitary Twenty20 match, and Ben Stokes, who is recovering at home. Bell may be able to adapt but serious consideration should be given to using him as an opening batsman.
This series is pivotal in Kevin Pietersen's one-day career. Whatever he says, he has been off the pace for most of the last three years in this form of the game. If he does not put it right now he may not have the opportunity again (the possible end is that close for him), and with Bairstow making such a rapid climb there is a case for leaving him out now.
Alastair Cook, England's captain, said yesterday: "This series has no relevance at all to England in the summer. They are totally different conditions and what's gone is gone. We had a really good summer and it was great to be part of it but it's totally different now. It's a new series, we start at 0-0, but we feel that we can challenge any side. Practice has gone great, the welcome has been fantastic, this squad is ready to play."
The usual rallying words then at the start of a series and Cook, despite the observations of his friend and colleague, Graeme Swann in his new autobiography, did not stumble and stammer once in enunciating them. He might have found it more difficult in telling the squad who was playing last night.
The batting apart, it is unthinkable that England will go in without two spinners. One of them is unlikely to be the 21-year-old leg spinner Scott Borthwick this early in proceedings.
India's batting is lacking Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh but they will accrue runs all right. It is their bowling that should offer England a shot. India have yet to win at this ground, having lost all three matches so far.
The series will be the first to be played under the new regulations. The options for the batting and bowling powerplays have become less optional and must be taken between the 16th and 40th overs. The feeling is that more often than not the bowling powerplay will be taken from the 16th over and the batting powerplay from the 35th.
A more drastic alteration may be the use of two balls, to be used at alternate ends. Cook averred that it could bring spinners into play more often, both near the start and the end of the innings. If so, it may raise a low-key series to a greater level of fascination. England can win, starting today.
India (probable): M S Dhoni (capt & wkt), P A Patel, A M Rahane, G Gambhir, V Kohli, S K Raina, R A Jadeja, P Kumar, R Ashwin, U Yadav, V Kumar.
England (probable): A N Cook (capt), C Kieswetter (wkt), I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, R S Bopara, J M Bairstow, S R Patel, T T Bresnan, G P Swann, S T Finn, J W Dernbach.
Umpires B Bowden (NZ) & S Tarapore (India).
Pitch report England scored 367 here so expect plenty of runs.
Weather Hot and humid.
TV Sky Sports 1, 9.30am-6.30pm.
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