KOCHI: After another disastrous start to an ODI series, India take on England in the second fixture on Saturday searching for a much-needed equalizing victory. MS Dhoni’s team surrendered the opening game at Rajkot by nine runs, failing to chase down England’s massive 325 in batting-friendly conditions. More runs are expected on another belter of a track at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, although who gets them and for which side remains to be seen.
A batting paradise, the venue has witnessed several scores of above 300 and numerous ODI hundreds. Possibly the only bowler to have tasted some sucess at Kochi has been Sachin Tendulkar, whose five-wicket hauls have both come at this 60,000-capacity stadium. Tendulkar is no longer part of India's ODI set up. Even if he were, his presence would have been more to the end of shoring up the hosts' indifferent batting, which has worn an unsettled look of late. Virender Sehwag’s replacementAjinkya Rahane and Gautam Gambhir provided a good start at Rajkot, but the batsmen that followed failed to capitalize after playing themselves in.
Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Dhoni all looked good in the middle, only to give it up at crucial times to scupper the chase. One cause for concern is Virat Kohli’s poor form at the pivotal No.3 slot. Kohli was the centerpiece of many an Indian ODI victory in the last season and his diminishing returns mirror the team’s present plight. The management has yet expressed a reluctance to beef up the batting by including Cheteshwar Pujara in the eleven, but that may change going into the second match.
The last two overs of Enlgand’s innings cost India the match. Their principal seamers, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, were clobbered for 38 runs in the 49th and 50th as Samit Patel wreaked havoc at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium. Ishant conceded 86 in his 10, which included two maidens. Dinda too was generosity personified - as was Bhuvneshwar Kumar - and the only Indian bowlers to convey a hint of economy were the much-maligned all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja and part-timer Raina. This only confounds the possible approach of including Pujara in the playing eleven at the expense of Jadeja for the upcoming encounter.
Everything seems to be ticking for England. All their batsmen clicked, one exploded, and an unassuming, balding off-spinner turned it around with the ball. Ian Bell and Alastair Cook looked in good touch, setting up a record foundation opening the innings and allowing Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan the freedom to come up with useful contributions. Samit Patel collared the bowling to massacre 44 in just 20 balls, while James Tredwell, who may not have the guile and influence of Graeme Swann, was instrumental in holding India back with 4/44. Every time the hosts seemed to get ahead of the asking rate, Man of the Match Tredwell pegged them back with a timely wicket.
Pacers Steve Finn, Tim Bresnan and Jade Dernbach were expensive, but Tredwell’s and debutant Joe Root’s tidiness more than made up for their errors. England may want to include fast bowler Stuart Meaker for the Kochi game, but it was really the last two overs and the 38 that came off them that proved to be the difference in the lung-opener. India would be praying that no such calamitous events do them in at Kochi. For they will have little hope – if any – of returning from a 0-2 deficit.