The best thing about a long-drawn-out, 10-team round-robin group stage for an ODI World Cup is that nothing is certain – qualification, elimination, final standings to name a few – for the longest period.
The worst thing about the format you ask? Again, the certainty of absolutely nothing.
India has been flawless, winning all five of its matches so far through meticulously constructed chases. England, on the other hand, has been more akin to a palace of cards on a windy beach. Its much-talked-about batting order has proven to be as soft as the local delicacy of Galouti Kebab.
England’s bowling has been marginally better than its batting in the tournament. But that is like saying Mohammed Siraj is a better batter than Kuldeep Yadav.
Despite the divergence in form and performances, India is yet to mathematically assure itself of a spot in the semifinals, while England kindles hopes of a dramatic entry into the last four.
Although, for the latter to happen, a lot of other results have to go in the favour of the Three Lions.
The difference in mood and optimism was reflected on Saturday when both teams took their turn to get their eye in on the practice nets adjacent to the Bharat Ratna Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana Cricket Stadium in Lucknow on the eve of their coming together.
England’s session, which happened first, was one missing the jovial mood of its training outings at the beginning of the tournament. The ever-present boombox played out quietly in the background.
The batters took their turn in handling the spinners among the local net bowlers, with the occasional mix of throwdowns and pacers.
Talismanic all-rounder Ben Stokes sandwiched his batting stint with spells of off-spin, a departure from his hard-on-the-deck medium pace, an experiment underlining the uncertainty in the side and its performance.
The English players mostly preferred to stick to themselves, with the side’s coach Matthew Mott overseeing the proceedings from a distance, with furrows deepening into his already worried face.
An hour or so later, the Indian side strode in with the expected buoyancy of a side on a continuous win streak. There was an air of assurance in the session, with the Indian head coach Rahul Dravid striking up a system, demarcating the three nets in use for pace bowlers, throwdown specialists and spinners.
The Indian top-order batters, with the exception of skipper Rohit Sharma, batted in rotation in all three of the nets.
Ravichandran Ashwin, who looks likely to get a chance tomorrow, was the only Indian bowler to have a go, with the off-spinner testing Shreyas Iyer.
Shubman Gill who started tentatively, cracked some thunderous square drives to get into the rhythm, while Virat Kohli was seen trying to perfect his step-out game against the spinners.
Once the trio had batted to their full, the Indian middle order stepped in, including Ashwin. Rohit and Ishan Kishan made a late arrival for the session, as Dravid continued to assess his batting arsenal, pondering his options for the England match-up.
England has painted itself into a corner in this tournament.
The only thing that has kept the defending champion afloat has been the elongated tournament format. Another misstep would not just mean potential elimination; it could also push it on to the possibility of registering the worst performance by a reigning champion in an ODI World Cup.
An exuberant Indian side would be happy to do that honour.
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