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PREVIEW: The two best teams in the T20I format – England and India will clash in a marquee five-match series which commences at the iconic Narendra Modi Stadium from Friday, the 12th of March. England with a rating of 275 is at pole position in the latest ICC Rankings while India is at the number two position with 268 points. While a series win for India will be a great confidence booster in the year of the World T20, which is scheduled to be hosted by India with Ahmedabad as one of the potential venues, it will not necessarily suffice in them overtaking England as the number one ranked team in the format.
If India wins the series 3-2, England still hold on to their position with a difference of two ranking points. India needs a 4-1 or a 5-0 win to dethrone England. Given the record of the visitors in the last couple of years India’s task will be cut out. England have won 15 of their 21 matches since October, 2018 and more significantly remained unbeaten in 8 consecutive series during this period.
While India would settle for nothing but a series win against the number 1 ranked team in the world, the five matches also give the home team a great opportunity to test their bench strength ahead of the World T20 later in the year. India would want to get their combination right and get their best XI sorted.
The main dilemma for the hosts would be who to send to open the innings with Rohit Sharma. KL Rahul was in fine form in Australia and has an average of 47.18 and strike rate of 148.03 as an opener for India since 2018. The other contender, Shikhar Dhawan, while a brilliant ODI batsman, does not have the same returns in T20I cricket. He has averaged 33.11 and strike rate of 133.72 at the top of the order for India in this time-frame – good numbers but not as outstanding as Rahul’s.
Suryakumar Yadav who played the role of the playmaker for Mumbai Indians quite effectively in IPL 2020 in the UAE, could find a spot for himself at number 4 ahead of Shreyas Iyer who has already been tried and tested. Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant will bat at 5 and 6. The number 7 batting position will be a toss up between Washington Sundar and Rahul Tewatia. But given India already has enough firepower in the lower middle-order, the more restrictive of the two bowlers, Sundar might get the nod ahead of the maverick all-rounder. Sundar was RCB’s unsung hero in IPL 2020 and one of the most economical bowlers of the tournament. Although not a big wicket-taker he has been very restrictive in his 26 matches for India with an economy rate of 6.95.
The experienced Bhuvneshwar Kumar will share the new ball with Deepak Chahar in all likelihood. Chahar is a specialist in the powerplay and has a knack of picking wickets and containing the opposition batsmen in the first six overs.
Jos Buttler and Jason Roy form a devastating opening pair for England. Their most dangerous batsman, however, would be the number 3 Dawid Malan. Malan has had a phenomenal start to his T20I career and has an aggregate of 855 runs in 19 matches at an average of 53.43 and strike rate of 149.47. His exploits already include a hundred and 9 fifties. Malan has the ability to score big and at a very high rate.
Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Eoin Morgan form a formidable and destructive middle order capable of annihilating any attack in the world. Bairstow and Morgan have a strike rate of close to 140 in T20I cricket while Stokes is widely regarded as the best all-rounder in the world across formats.
The Curran Brothers – Sam and Tom will occupy the positions of the bowling all-rounders at 7 and 8 while Adil Rashid will be the specialist spinner in the XI. The leg break bowler has picked 201 wickets in 179 T20 matches at a strike rate of 18.2 and economy rate of 7.43.
T20I specialist Chris Jordan who is a wicket-taking bowler in the format will share the new ball with Jofra Archer. Jordan has picked 66 wickets in 54 T20I appearances for England at a strike rate of 17.4. Archer was one of the bowlers of IPL 2020 and returned as the highest wicket-taker for the Royals with 20 wickets in 14 matches at a strike rate of 16.7 and economy rate of 6.55.
INDIA SQUAD: Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli (c), Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, KL Rahul, Washington Sundar, Axar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Rahul Tewatia, Ishan Kishan, Yuzvendra Chahal, Varun Chakravarthy, T Natarajan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur
ENGLAND SQUAD: Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Jonny Bairstow, Eoin Morgan, Liam Livingstone, Dawid Malan, Jason Roy, Moeen Ali, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Chris Jordan, Adil Rashid, Reece Topley

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