In what will be India’s last One Day International (ODI) assignment before the Champions Trophy in June, the ushering of a new era ensues. MS Dhoni’s decision to hand over the limited-overs captaincy to Virat Kohli seemed sudden and perhaps ill-timed on initial assessment. But the sort of breakthrough year that Kohli has had in ODIs and Twenty20 Internationals in 2016, he couldn’t have been better-placed to be appointed the leader. New era brings along immediate challenges, partly due to India still being in the midst of their Test season. This means Kohli & Co. will be bereft of ODIs between the completion of the England series and the Champions Trophy in June.
The three-match series, that begins on Sunday (January 15) in Pune, will thus be the only fixtures for Kohli to ease into his new role, lay down his idea of playing the 50-over game and identify the men who he will take along going into his first major tournament as captain. If these aren’t challenging enough for a cricketer who is constantly pushing the envelope, there’s also the fact that India have been a bit of a spent force in the format in the last couple of years.
A lot of focus will be on Kohli’s opposite number, Eoin Morgan too. Morgan returns, amidst a lot of boos and cheers, to reclaim his captaincy throne from stand-in skipper Jos Buttler after opting to skip the Bangladesh tour over security concerns. As far as the team’s ODI standing is concerned, their fifth position in the ICC rankings paints an unfair picture of a side that has been on the up since a forgettable 2015 World Cup campaign.
England’s incredible transformation has been down to their ability to adapt to the changing demands of the ODI format, which is growingly being influenced by the T20s. It comes as a great advantage for England that they still have 11 ODIs (three vs India, three vs West Indies, two vs Ireland and three vs South Africa) to play before the Champions Trophy, five of which will be played in England, where the showpiece event will take place.
Squad: KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli(c), MS Dhoni, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Yuvraj Singh, Ajinkya Rahane, Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav
The Ajinkya Rahane question: Unconvincing performances against New Zealand late last year has perhaps pushed Ajinkya Rahane’s ODI career on the brink. Anil Kumble maintained that Rahane will be ‘an option at the top’ but he could be running out of time. India are likely to have four opening choices at their disposal for the Champions Trophy – Rohit Sharma (currently out injured), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul and Rahane. Given Kohli’s admiration for Rohit, and the fact that he’s nearly indispensable in the 50-over format, even a good IPL season should suffice for the Mumbai batsman to reclaim his place in the line-up. That leaves Rahane fighting it out with Rahul and Dhawan. It will be interesting to see if Kohli lends Rahane a longer rope or starts the series with Rahul and comeback man Dhawan.
MS Dhoni’s role and the middle muddle: MS Dhoni has offered to bat anywhere from 4 to 7 based on the team’s demands, but Kohli has quite a task at hand to arrange his middle-order options of Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya in the best possible manner. With the captaincy off his shoulders, there’s been a call – even from Kohli himself – for Dhoni to be the aggressor of the old again, and bat at 4 where he has all the freedom. How the Indian think tank frames the rest of the middle-order and strikes a good balance is there to be seen.
Pace attack decision: With Hardik Pandya considered as a frontline fast-bowling option, Kohli will also be left to pick two out of Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The final toss up could be between Umesh and Bhuvneshwar, leaving Kohli in quite a fix. While Umesh showed great improvement during the New Zealand ODIs and is the kind of aggressive fast bowler that Kohli would like in his side, Bhuvneshwar’s swing propensity makes him a key component for the Champions Trophy in England.
Squad: Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Liam Dawson, Alex Hales, Eoin Morgan(c), Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willey, Chris Woakes
Eoin Morgan’s comeback: The spotlight shines brightly on Eoin Morgan’s much-publicised return to the England line-up after having opted out of the Bangladesh tour because of security concerns. Detractors are wrong to point fingers at him for taking an option that was given to him before the tour, but his ODI numbers in recent past have been questionable. He essays a key role in the middle order at No. 4 and will need to carry forward his late Big Bash League heroics into the series and start brightly. Specially with someone like Sam Billings making all the noises from the fringes.
Joe Root’s return: England’s No. 3 batsman returns to the team after being rested for Bangladesh ODIs and will slot right into the line-up. Like Kohli for India, Root will be the fulcrum of England’s batting order going into the Champions Trophy. Four of Root’s eight ODI centuries have come since England’s upheaval in the format. Root averages 57.85 since the 2015 World Cup and has the opportunity to better his numbers in Asia (145 runs at 36.71).
Confidence for spinners: The conditions in India may not be the ideal place for the spinners to put their hands up and stake a claim for a spot in the Champions Trophy squad. Yet, it will benefit the likes of Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali to get some wickets under their belt on surfaces that are likely to be less unforgiving than the ones back at home. Good performances could even turn the heads of IPL sides, who knows?