A blend of favourable results in the present and finding the perfect combination for the near future will be India’s main endeavour when they square off against a well-rounded England in a five-match T20 International series starting here on Friday.
For skipper Virat Kohli, the primary aim will be to get an idea of his core group of players going into the ICC T20 World Cup in October.
And he couldn’t have hoped for a better opposition than a world-class English white-ball side under Eoin Morgan, ready to be way more challenging on flatter tracks that promise a run-feast.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for us to play in conditions where we will be playing the World Cup,” England’s explosive batsman-keeper Jos Buttler had recently said, shrugging off the debacle that was the Test series.
For Indian vice-captain Rohit Sharma, it’s all about focussing on the present.
“If we focus on the present, the future will take care of itself. It’s a long series and it’s important to see where we stand as a team and individual,” Rohit said.
While there are more advantages of having multiple options, fashionably described as a “happy headache” for any captain, there are a few pitfalls that come with such a situation. The Indian team understands this fully well, having burnt its hands during the 2019 World Cup.
It was one event where till the last moment, they didn’t have a settled number four.
So it will only be fair that Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri, in their minds, decide who will be Rohit’s opening partner going into the mega event. The choice is down to KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan.
By pure cricketing logic and the skill sets that he is blessed with, Rahul’s selection in any white-ball playing XI is a no-brainer but then there is Dhawan, who has been a terrific performer at global events and one of the senior-most in the side.
If Kohli decides to accommodate Dhawan, then he will have to push Rahul down at No.4 as the Bengaluru man’s place in the playing XI at this point of time is non-negotiable.
It’s a tough call that Kohli needs to take as playing both of them would mean no place for either Shreyas Iyer or Indian fans’ sentimental favourite Suryakumar Yadav, who is finally set to wear the India Blues after years of hardship.
The option of explosive hitting, that one among Shreyas and Surya can provide at No 4 or 5, is very enticing and the team management for one wouldn’t like to miss out on an opportunity to exploit that advantage.
The Motera track will certainly be a flat deck, suiting the needs of the shortest format and with a lot of batting firepower in both sides, the Ahmedabad skyline could witness a lot of fireworks from both ends.
Whether it’s vice-captain Rohit, the indomitable duo of Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya for the hosts or captain Morgan, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Dawid Malan and Jason Roy at the other end, the kookaburra white might find itself in the stands more often than not.
With the unavailability of Thangarasu Natarajan in the bowling department, Bhuvneshwar Kumar will be back leading the attack alongside another senior Yuzvendra Chahal for company.
With England’s weakness against slow bowlers’ well-documented in these conditions, Chahal could have both Washington Sundar and Axar Patel for company which leaves Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar and Navdeep Saini in a three-way battle.
For England, the white ball format presents them with multi-skilled cricketers like Stokes, Sam Curran and IPL auction sensation Moeen Ali for starters, who can change the complexion of any game in either department.
Throw in specialists like pacers Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Chris Jordan and wrist-spinner Adil Rashid, it will be a contest where India can never be termed firm favourites.
The next week and half would be an indication as to which direction the teams are headed in terms of preparations for the marquee event later this year.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma (vc), KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wk), Hardik Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Axar Patel, Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini, Deepak Chahar, Rahul Tewatia, Ishan Kishan (reserve wicket keeper).
England: Eoin Morgan (captain), Joss Buttler, Jason Roy, Liam Livingstone, Dawid Malan, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Reece Topley, Chris Jordan, Mark Wood, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Sam Billings, Jonny Bairstow, Jofra Archer.
Match Starts at 7 pm.