It is hot and dry, the pitches are flat and there will be lots of spin awaiting England. Add to this a huge Indian contingent that will be cheering their team at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff. If there was any doubt before, there is none now – the main challenge of the summer has arrived.
A game down, England know one thing already: scoring truckloads of runs against Ashton Agar was clearly no preparation for India’s spin variety. Already, discussion of wristspin and their failure to cope against left-armer Kuldeep Yadav has become a talking point. The second T20I, therefore, gives them an opportunity to prove the Manchester nightmare was an aberration.
It is one thing executing badly against this rare bowling style, another not picking them at all, as was the case with four of the five England batsmen in the series opener. While two days between games is unlikely to change their foundation towards approaching spin, it sure could have given England time to ponder over batting strategies – knowing whom to target – and perhaps batting positions. Joe Root, for example, was a complete misfit at No. 6, especially when having at come in as late as the 14th over. His strike rate in T20Is since 2016 a modest 105.74 in seven innings.
India have decided to play five specialist bowlers, leaving them vulnerable at times to a bowler having an off day and little else to fall back on. That perhaps explains the team management’s preference for Suresh Raina over the in-form Dinesh Karthik, because he can offer part-time offspin. England must look to capitalise on this.
A game down, India may have discovered their best batting line-up too. KL Rahul’s success at No. 3 could mean an end to the musical chairs at No. 4, with Virat Kohli all but likely to settle there for the time being. The success may have come in the shortest format, but India are approaching what would otherwise be a context-less T20I series, with an eye on next year’s 2019 World Cup.
England LWWLL (last five completed games, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Moeen Ali took 12 wickets in five ODIs against Australia, but has little to show with the ball in the two T20Is since. Against Australia, he was clobbered for 58 off his four overs. On Tuesday, his 2.2 overs went for 37. He didn’t look great with the bat, either, out to an ugly hoick when England needed to arrest the slide in the wake of Kuldeep’s strikes. England may well be tempted to play a specialist bowler in his stead, given their batting depth. However, should they persist with Moeen, the onus is on him to deliver.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar is India’s lead bowler, and one bad outing is unlikely to change that. He’s graduated to become a bowler who isn’t always dependent on swing and seam, and will want to get back to his usual ways after two wicketless matches in Dublin and Manchester. Umesh Yadav’s stunning IPL form that earned a comeback and his fiery spells since have given him a headstart. Should Bhuvneshwar also find his groove back, it will give the team management a healthy headache when Jasprit Bumrah recovers from his thumb injury.
England (probable) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jos Buttler (wk), 3 Alex Hales, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Joe Root, 6 Jonny Bairstow, 7 Moeen Ali, 8 David Willey, 9 Liam Plunkett, 10 Chris Jordan, 11 Adil Rashid
India (probable) 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 KL Rahul, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 MS Dhoni (wk), 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Umesh Yadav, 10 Kuldeep Yadav, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal
Pitch and conditions
Cardiff has tended to play much slower than other surfaces in the UK, the average score here is just 144. Weather-wise, all of UK is set for a scorching weekend. No prizes for guessing which team is happier.
Stats and trivia
Umesh Yadav is the highest wicket-taker in Powerplays in T20s this year. In 16 innings, he has 17 wickets; he averages just 14.29 in this period. The only England-based bowler in the top 10 – never mind, he doesn’t qualify to play for them yet – is Jofra Archer (eight wickets in 22 innings at 34.75).
Jos Buttler’s 69 in the series opener was his seventh fifty-plus score in his last eight T20 innings. All of them have come as an opener. Four of England’s top five – Buttler, Roy, Hales, Morgan – have been dismissed at least thrice to wristspinners in T20s. Buttler has been out the most: nine times in 16 innings.
England are undefeated in four T20Is in Cardiff
Tuesday’s win was India’s first in T20Is against England in England.
“It has been made very clear that there will be few changes in the team and as a batting unit we need to flexible in our heads to be able to perform any role or responsibility that has been given to us by the team. We are all working towards it like you said, I might bat at No. 3 or 5 or 6. Someday we might want to promote MS Dhoni or Hardik Pandya if we get a good start to go and get us a few sixes or get the run rate up. So we will be flexible keeping in mind the World Cup.”
India batsman KL Rahul supports the team management’s view on flexibility and rotation
“It was a good spell from Kuldeep Yadav, first of all, and then a very good innings from KL Rahul. They thoroughly deserved the win, but we’ll be looking to bounce back come tomorrow.”
Chris Jordan keeps things simple