England go in search of one-day inspiration
Monday 27 March 2006
England's cricketers will never forget what they experience over the course of the next three weeks. There will be times when they may wish they could, after Virender Sehwag or Mahendra Singh Dhoni has carted them into a packed stand for six, but there are very few sporting events that match the passion and noise of a one-day international in India.
A cacophony of sound will hit the England team the moment they step foot on each of the seven venues they are scheduled to play at and, if India are on top, it will remain there throughout the day. It is 14 years since an England touring side last won a one-day series against decent opposition - Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are exempt - and they are hoping that this frenzy of excitement will inspire them to great deeds.
Andrew Flintoff's side will draw confidence from the 212-run victory in Bombay, but winning the one-day series here will be a far harder task than drawing level in the Tests.
There are many theories on why England perform better in Test than one-day cricket, the most obvious being that the techniques of the players are better suited to the longer form of the game. The supposition is correct, but one of the biggest influences on the England one-day side is the nation's attitude towards limited-over cricket.
In England Test cricket is considered to be the ultimate form of the game, and quite rightly so. The performance of the Test side gives a true reflection on the health of the game in England but, as a consequence, one-day cricket has developed an after the Lord Mayor's Show feel to it.
This is particularly the case when England are abroad. It is not that the players do not care about playing limited-over cricket. They do. It is just that one-day series are always tagged on to the end of physically demanding three or five Test tours, and they involve an enormous amount of travel. It is inevitable and understandable that by the time these matches come round the players who played in the Test matches are shattered and counting down the days until they get home.
In a bizarre twist, the 16 players who will play for England over the coming weeks should be less affected by these issues than those who are not here. The replacements for Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Ashley Giles, Simon Jones and Stephen Harmison are young and enthusiastic, and have been given an unexpected opportunity to impress on possibly the biggest stage of them all. And who knows, a couple of match-winning performances here could push them straight into the reckoning for next year's World Cup in the Caribbean.
"We have not performed as consistently as we would have liked in one-day cricket, particularly away from home," admitted Andrew Strauss. "We need to build on the momentum of the Test win in Bombay. India are a very good one-day side and this series will give a good indication of where we are at.
"There should be no problem with motivation. One-day cricket is very big in India and there will be full-houses wherever we go. I have never played one-day cricket here but the guys that have say the atmosphere inside the grounds is unbelievable, unlike anything else you will ever experience. India is one of the places where you want to play one-day cricket and hopefully it will inspire us."
In preparation for tomorrow's opening encounter in Delhi, England have played only one warm-up game. England's five-run defeat in Jaipur will have no bearing on tomorrow's game, and the team, which will contain Flintoff - due back from paternity leave this morning - Strauss, and Geraint Jones, will be much stronger. But England will need to adapt quickly if they are to avoid being caught out by an Indian team with a point to prove.
The hosts have had their own fitness problems. Sachin Tendulkar will miss the series with a shoulder problem but Virender Sehwag yesterday reported himself fit to play.
India (probable): R Dravid (capt), V Sehwag, S Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wkt), I K Pathan, A Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, S Sreesanth, M M Patel.
England (probable): A Flintoff (capt), A J Strauss, M J Prior, I R Bell, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, G O Jones (wkt), I D Blackwell, Kabir Ali, L E Plunkett, J M Anderson.
Dhoni and Blackwell: Two to watch in Delhi
MAHENDRA SINGH DHONI
The Indian wicketkeeper failed to live up to his reputation during the Test series, but one-day cricket - and a restriction on short-pitched balls - will suit his game. Dhoni has hit 40 sixes in 35 one-dayers, a strike rate of 109 and an average of 54. Good luck, bowlers GETTY IMAGES
This is a make or break trip for Blackwell, who has the potential to be a matchwinner in one-day cricket. The low, slow nature of the pitches should suit his front foot game. England will need intelligent, quick runs from him at seven or eight. Is he up to it? We will see. GETTY IMAGES
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