World Cup 2019: Clinical India takes on angst-ridden England

England, home-favourite and until recently ranked number one in ODIs, has slipped while India registered clinical victories and snatched away the ICC’s top-billing ahead of the key World Cup clash.

England has lost its momentum towards sealing a semifinal spot after back-to-back defeats against Sri Lanka and Australia.   -  AP

In quaint Birmingham rich with tree-lined avenues, Pakistani curry joints, wood-panelled pubs, canals where house-boats sway to the lullaby of flowing water, drive-ways that curl past the ‘Old Edgbaston Church’ and a backyard cemetery steeped in silence, India and England will clash in a key World Cup fixture on Sunday.

Much has changed for the rivals as the global tournament finishes a month this weekend. England, home-favourite and until recently ranked number one in ODIs, has slipped while India registered clinical victories and snatched away the ICC’s top-billing that was vested with Eoin Morgan’s men. The opposition has its angst, Jonny Bairstow lashed at the local media for ‘finding faults’ and former captain Michael Vaughan, eager for a Twitter-spat, fired his riposte.         

READ | Vaughan slams Bairstow's 'negative, pathetic mindset'                                               

The losses to old-foe Australia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have left the host in a quandary and nudged it to the points table's congested central-zone. Morgan and mates need a win and it is a travesty that even the skipper’s six-fest against Afghanistan, has been relegated to the background. When soaked in pressure, England has wilted be it against wily Lasith Malinga or spit-fire Mitchell Starc.

Despite late-heroics from all-rounder Ben Stokes, there is a sense of persecution within the ranks and it almost mirrors the ancient lines from W.H. Auden’s poem ‘Funeral Blues’. The famous poet with Birmingham roots, wrote: “Silence the pianos and with muffled drum; Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.”

England has missed the injured Jason Roy at the top of the batting order. PHOTO: AFP

 

Still, England with its batting fire-power, albeit muffled for now, and a decent pace attack, cannot be labelled as an easy opponent. Injured opener Jason Roy and speedster Jofra Archer, who suffered a niggle, are in the mix and may play provided they clear their fitness tests. But Morgan’s men, atleast some of them, should stop being hyper-sensitive to the surround-sound or whine about surfaces that have become slow.   

At the other end, India is sitting confident but never smug. Virat Kohli’s men have been seemingly impervious to stress but the skipper admitted that ‘butterflies in the stomach’ are still fluttering, just that he and his team have masked it well. The top-order is in fine fettle and even if the middle-rung has raised some concerns, different men have put their hands up and revved the score.   

Room for improvement

After a glut of centuries (Rohit Sharma 2, Shikhar Dhawan 1) in the beginning of their campaign, the Indians have dished out fifties (Kohli aced it with four), feverish cameos and some sedate knocks. This blend has proved adequate but against an England outfit that bats deep, more may be required.

READ | Adaptability key to India's relentless pursuit

Kohli has scored four successive fifties including crucial knocks against Afghanistan and the West Indies. PHOTO: AFP

 

The Indian team-management is thrilled by its bowlers who have defended modest totals against the West Indies and Afghanistan. Mohammed Shami seamlessly moved into the slot vacated by the injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who will be benched again. Jasprit Bumrah’s lines have sharpened and Hardik Pandya has done his bit as the first-change seamer. The spinners too have played their parts and Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav could find some purchase on a pitch baked under the summer sun.

The Men in Blue, will wear their new orange jersey just for this face-off, considered an ‘away’ game, but would hope that there is no change in its upwardly-mobile fortunes. India needs a triumph to seize the semifinal spot, a berth that seems inevitable given the way the unit has performed. The last word belongs to Javed, a cab driver, who dropped a few Indian scribes at the Edgbaston Cricket Ground: “So the favourites (England) are no longer the favourites, eh!”    

The teams (from)

India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, M.S. Dhoni, K.L. Rahul, Hardik Pandya, Vijay Shankar, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav and Rishabh Pant.

England: Eoin Morgan (captain), Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jason Roy, Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, Tom Curran, Liam Dawson, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, James Vince, Chris Woakes and Mark Wood.

Umpires: Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena; Third umpire: Ruchira Palliyaguruge; Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle.

Match starts at 3 p.m. IST.                

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