It’s only in the past couple of years that ODI series in England have started to receive a similar amount of attention to Test series. Test cricket has always been viewed, in England, as the superior format, but the transformation of the ODI side in the wake of the disastrous 2015 World Cup has reinvigorated the poorer relation in the eyes of the public.
For so many years, a five, or even seven, game series would be met with a rolling of the eyes and a blurring of the games into one lump of cricket in the memory. This summer, however, there is a feeling that three ODIs against India might not be enough to satiate public demand for the format.
England are on a roll and are the number one ranked team in the world. India are their closest challengers for that title. This short but potentially oh so sweet series is something of an hors d’oeuvres for next summer’s eagerly anticipated World Cup, which is being hosted in England.
Can England play spin? Can India contain England’s batting firepower? The weather has been set fair for a few weeks in England this summer, so the series is likely to be played out on three belting wickets. It is an opportunity for England to dispel the last lingering doubts about their prowess as an ODI force, whilst conversely it’s an opportunity for India to sow seeds of doubt in English minds ahead of the tournament – and such seeds need little very little encouragement to fertilise and flourish in English minds.
Putting the unfolding narrative of next summer’s World Cup to one side though, this promises to be a superb series with two in form sides boasting the best batting units in the game. England’s response to their abjectness has been to attack at every possible opportunity and they’re riding the crest of a three-year wave. Their bowling is a little one dimensional and has struggled to contain sides, which will enthuse India here, but England have backed themselves to outscore every opponent. It is a high-risk, high-reward strategy designed to cover up the side’s deficiencies and it is also hugely entertaining.
India, however, have the closest batting unit in the game to matching England’s firepower. As they have shown in the recent T20 series, which they won 2-1, they can go toe-to-toe with England in a slugfest and come out on top.
Taking pointers from a T20 series can be difficult, though. England’s focus is very much on the 50-over game and they will be very keen to lay down a marker.
The incessantly hot weather England has been enjoying adds another dimension to the series and a caveat for the loser – the arid conditions are as Indian as India will see in England. Pitches have been drying out and groundsmen have been struggling to get enough water into their wickets. Outfields will be fast and shots will be encouraged. This is unlikely to be a direct dress rehearsal for conditions during next June’s World Cup.
England begin the series as favourites with the best sports betting UK firms, although that is solely based on perceived home advantage. India’s spinners will pose serious questions of England’s fabled batting line-up and will find the conditions as hospitable as they could possibly wish. India’s bowling, too, has the edge on England’s. It could be home from home for India, although don’t necessarily equate that to success next summer. This series is here to be enjoyed for what it is, although talk of next June is inevitable.
By Miles Reucroft