Pity the poor put-upon ground staff at Edgbaston. Barely four days have elapsed since they were watering down the wicket at the end of England’s thrilling chase in the long-delayed fifth Test – and here we are again, back to Brum as the England-India one-day roadshow gathers pace. What’s more, the change of livery around the stadium has happened not once this week, but twice, following Thursday’s shoehorned quarter-final in the Vitality Blast (although, for all the efforts that they went to ensure a home tie, Birmingham Bears are entitled to wish they hadn’t bothered).
For some of India’s biggest guns, however, there may have been a sense of confusing continuity as they remained billeted in the city after the deflating end to that Test, watching the manic scenes unfold around them in the stadium, and waiting for their white-ball colleagues to swing back and link up with them in the Midlands.
And talking of rebooted approaches to batting, there was a clear sense too at the Ageas Bowl – as a line-up comprised mainly of understudies romped to an emphatic 50-run win in Thursday’s first T20I – that, given half a chance, a new philosophy could be set to take hold of India’s white-ball game. A determination to get on with it from the get-go, to treat wickets in hand as “resources”, and to value distance travelled over time spent – all of these are arguably new traits for a team that has rarely struggled to boss their bilateral series in recent times, as shown by their current run of 17 wins in 19 completed T20Is, but whose inherent reticence was dramatically shown up at the last T20 World Cup, and before that at the 2019 ODI World Cup too.
By contrast, reticence is not an accusation that can often be pinned on England’s white-ball dashers. If anything, their default setting since 2015 has been to go “too far”, as Brendon McCullum recently said of his new-look Test team, with the thrill of some truly spectacular scoring feats offset by the knowledge that, on certain days, against certain bowlers, and in certain conditions, they are liable to come an equally spectacular cropper.
That, however, wasn’t really what happened at the Ageas Bowl. It was an unusually slow puncture of a batting display, especially given England’s known love of a chase. They seemed unduly shocked by Jos Buttler’s first-baller – quite the comedown from his Netherlands trouncings, and on his first day as England’s official captain too. Bhuvneshwar Kumar in particular was magnificent, Jason Roy was quite unable to send it in his usual fashion, and at 33 for 4 from the first ball after the powerplay, there was no coming back.
A response, however, does seem inevitable. For all that Buttler now has four ducks in his last seven innings as captain, his incredible form at the IPL guarantees lasting respect from his Indian opponents, as well as an expectation that, if he gets in, he’ll get going. And it won’t be often that he and Liam Livingstone contribute not a single run between them. That said, the smarts with which Hardik Pandya skinned England’s top order goes to show the enviable variety in India’s attack, and with Bumrah returning to lead the line, their quality is set to go up a notch at Edgbaston too.
England LLWLW (last five completed T20Is, most recent first) India WWWWW
Everyone’s got a theory or ten about Virat Kohli. Michael Vaughan, for instance, reckons he needs to go and chill on a beach for three months, but to watch the manic way in which he was revving up his team in the field during the Edgbaston Test, there doesn’t seem to be a lot lacking from the competitive side of his game. In terms of output, however, he’s in an undeniably fallow period, and an unusually vulnerable one when it comes to his T20 game. His returns in the IPL were underwhelming by every relevant metric – 341 runs in 16 matches at an average of 22.73 and strike rate of 115.98, with just two fifties. His outstanding record across formats in Australia means he remains a shoo-in for the next T20 World Cup, but at a time when his Fab Four contemporaries are starting to feel squeezed out of their own team’s T20I plans, Kohli will appreciate there’s plenty at stake in these coming games.
It was confirmed earlier this week that Moeen Ali is coming back to Edgbaston on a full-time basis from next season, after signing a three-year deal with Warwickshire (nominally white-ball-only, but thanks to the thrill of Bazball, he has hinted his Test retirement may yet be rescinded). This, then, is a chance for an early reacquaintance with his home crowd – although he may be mindful too of the last time he faced India at Edgbaston, in a T20I in 2014, when he was booed by a section of fans due to his Anglo-Pakistani heritage. Such matters are back in the spotlight this week, following the racially motivated incidents during the Test match that have led to a criminal investigation from West Midlands Police, with undercover “spotters” being deployed in the stands on Saturday. Personally speaking, however, Moeen should be in the form and the frame of mind to let his cricket flourish this weekend – following two timely wickets and a short but powerful cameo of 36 from 20 in England’s otherwise flaccid innings at the Ageas Bowl.
No expectation of wholesale changes for England despite their malfunction at the Ageas Bowl, although two bowling tweaks are anticipated. Both Tymal Mills and Reece Topley are expected to be rotated out of the line-up after their exertions on Thursday, with David Willey – whose absence from the first game was telegraphed by his release to play (and win) for Yorkshire in their Vitality Blast quarter-final at The Oval on Wednesday – likely to slot back in as the fourth left-arm seamer of the series. Alongside him, we could see an international debut for Lancashire’s 34-year-old Richard Gleeson, which would complete one of the more remarkable rags to riches tales on the county circuit.
England (probable): 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jos Buttler (capt & wk), 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Moeen Ali, 5 Liam Livingstone, 6 Harry Brook, 7 Sam Curran, 8 Chris Jordan, 9 David Willey, 10 Richard Gleeson, 11 Matt Parkinson
India, by contrast, are expected to make all manner of changes to their winning line-up – in spite of how impressively their Ageas Bowl line-up met the full-throttle tempo expected of modern T20 line-ups. Neither Deepak Hooda nor Suryakumar Yadav deserves to be benched following their pitch-perfect cameos at Nos. 3 and 4, but one, or both, is bound to make way for the returning Kohli, and conceivably Iyer too. Dinesh Karthik unleashed some lusty late blows on his return to the fray, but Pant’s 203 runs in the Edgbaston Test conceivably trump his impact. That or India may sacrifice a top-order batter to keep both wicketkeepers in the XI. Meanwhile, Axar Patel cedes his spinning allrounder’s berth to the mighty Jadeja. Similarly, Arshdeep Singh let no one down on debut, but Bumrah is waiting in the wings. Rahul Dravid is set to take over as coach once more, after VVS Laxman oversaw the opening match.
Edgbaston has hosted an absolute ton of cricket recently. There have been five bat-first wins out of eight in the Blast this season, where scores batting first have ranged from 101 all out to 228 for 8. Warm, clear weather is anticipated for the duration of the match.
“Not really, to be honest. I think there’s a lot of guys in that team who you know are going to be aggressive and that’s how T20 cricket is played. Everyone has been evolving that style and there’s certainly nobody that I can see over time who thinks it’s a better idea to play more cautiously, so I expect all teams to be positive.” Jos Buttler was not surprised by India’s attacking intent at the Ageas Bowl
“That’s something Team India is looking at: the way we bat between [overs] 7 and 15. We’re making a conscious effort to put pressure on the bowlers – to try and think of risk as a positive option, not a positive one. It’s one thing trying to have the intent but being consistent with that requires a lot of skill, and the boys are showing it.” Dinesh Karthik explains India’s new game plan with the bat