More than seven weeks after England played their first day of cricket in India, it’s time for the finale of the tour. It’s a Sunday afternoon fixture, the ODI series is tied 1-1, and there’s everything to play for. What more do you want?
Well, if you’re Virat Kohli, you want more from your spinners. In 35 overs, they’ve conceded 283 runs at an economy of 8.09 for just one wicket. Be it IPL experience or pure skill (or a combination of both), England’s batsmen have been supremely confident against the spinners. Some said dropping Kuldeep Yadav after one game would be too harsh on him, but now it seems like India have no choice. After spending a good period on the bench, it might be time for Yuzvendra Chahal to show why he should be the first spinner on the ODI teamsheet every time.
And then there’s the dreaded ‘I’ word: intent. Par scores can’t simply be judged by the surface you’re playing on, but also by the opposition you’re against. India had a particular method in the T20Is. They threw caution to the wind while batting, even if it meant they lost two of the five games, but that template has gone out of the window in the ODIs. They’ll need the top order to either score quicker or start their late-overs surge earlier.
Either way, the final ODI will be a test of India’s brand of batting, more so if Kohli has a hat-trick of losing the toss. Finding the gaps and running hard twos in the first 30 overs is usually fine, but against England, more boundary shots are needed from the top order. Friday’s target of 337 was chased down with 6.3 overs to spare and even in the first ODI, let’s be honest, England were well ahead of the game for the first 20 overs of the second innings.
England’s batting remains their biggest strength. Their philosophy has remained unchanged, the openers are firing, Ben Stokes has been on a rampage and the injury-replacements have chipped in. They know the fast bowlers are inexperienced, more so if Mark Wood does not return for the decider, but that’s not in their control. However, they’ll be happy the way Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali have performed. At the start of the spells, they have done enough to ensure India don’t get on top of them, and the hosts are, perhaps, leaving some runs out there, by not going harder at the duo.
Overall, it’s a fitting finale to the tour. The team that has lost the first match of every series has gone on to win it. That was India in the first two occasions, but can England complete their own comeback? If they do, it will be a gentle reminder of why they are world champions.
(Last five completed matches first)
In the spotlight
When it’s a big game, expect to see a different version of Ben Stokes (remember Headingley and Lord’s 2019?). In the first ODI, his 3 for 34 broke Indian partnerships every time they looked to change gears. In the second game, he hit the fastest 99 in ODI history. India will be hoping Stokes’ numbers are a mere footnote in the match’s statistics because if it isn’t so, it’s likely his contributions will be match-winning. In the last game, his bowling numbers were under par and he could not get that one extra run to dedicate a century to his late father. He’ll be looking to change both those things.
Hardik Pandya has not bowled in the series yet, leaving India with only five bowling options. But he did bowl in the T20Is, so even if Kohli uses Hardik for just four overs, it will reduce the load on the off-colour bowler and could be the missing piece in the Indian bowling jigsaw. There’s also more that Hardik, the batsman, can do. In the XI, he is one of the best hitters of spin and could do to Moeen and Rashid what Stokes did in the second ODI to Kuldeep and Krunal Pandya. If the top order has set up a solid base, it’s worth sending him above KL Rahul and push the envelope on what total India can achieve. He hit 35 off 16 balls last game. Extrapolate that score if he faced, say, 50 balls.
All India’s batting will be trying, is to add 10-15% more runs to their scores, so that part of the XI should stay unchanged. They could tinker with the bowling though, Chahal for Kuldeep being the likeliest change. Washington Sundar could also replace Krunal Pandya, after the latter conceded 72 in six overs on Friday, although there isn’t any evidence that Sundar would improve that. Among pacers, one of Prasidh Krishna or Shardul Thakur could be replaced by T Natarajan, both for his left-handedness and for his ability to execute yorkers more consistently. Keeping Thakur gives the team more batting depth, which might be a consideration.
India (possible): 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 Rishabh Pant, 5 KL Rahul (wk), 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Krunal Pandya/Washington Sundar, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Shardul Thakur, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Prasidh Krishna/T Natarajan
Wood was rested for the second ODI and could return in place of either Reece Topley or Tom Curran, the latter being more likely after conceding 83 runs in the last match. England will wait on the fitness of Sam Billings, who injured his collar bone in the first game, until match day.
England (possible): 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jonny Bairstow, 3 Ben Stokes, 4 Dawid Malan, 5 Jos Buttler (capt & wk), 6 Liam Livingstone, 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Sam Curran, 9 Mark Wood/Tom Curran, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Reece Topley
Pitch and conditions
With not much in there for spinners, Pune is as ‘international’ a surface you can get in India. A good batting pitch in the afternoon turns into a great batting pitch in the evening. For the team batting first, aiming for scores in excess of 330 should be a bare minimum.
Stats and trivia
- India are looking to avoid a third-straight ODI series defeat. They lost 1-2 in Australia and 0-3 in New Zealand.
- Dhawan needs 90 to become the 10th Indian to get 6000 ODI runs.
- Bairstow and Roy had hit 13 century stands as openers in ODI cricket, the most by an England pair and the fifth-highest among openers.
- In the last five matches at Pune, the average first-innings score has been 303.20 with the contests 3-2 in favour of the chasing side.
“We’ve said for a while we want to play in a certain fashion and push the boundaries of what we’re capable of as a side. That’s probably what I was most proud of – we got some criticism from the first game but came out and played in exactly the same fashion, which rings true to us”
Jos Buttler promises that England will play the same way for the decider
Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @sreshthx