England's chance to beat India at home
He may be relatively new to the business of captaincy, but England's one-day captain Alistair Cook seems to be a quick learner of the art of mind games. Soon after landing in India for a five-match series, already branded as their attempt to conquer the ‘final frontier,' he observed that India at home is a different opposition altogether where the results of their just-concluded series counts for nothing.
It's certainly a time-tested ploy to take off the pressure from his relatively inexperienced side, but fact remains that England possibly would never get a better chance to tame Dhoni & Co at home. Anyone with a sense of history would agree that when it comes to one-dayers, England don't really travel well and when it comes to their record in their passages to India, lesser said the better.
Its been more than quarter of a century since David Gower's team managed to win a Test and one-day ‘double' against Gavaskar's men. Thereafter, in the course of four series and the occasional one-off games, they have only won once and ‘tied' one — the high-scoring affair in Bangalore in the last World Cup. However, given the self-belief that this current England crop rides on and the rag-tag status of the Indian team, this could England's best chance yet to rub it in.
Apart from the absence of almost the entire set of top flight Indian stars in Tendulkar, Sehwag, Yuvraj, Zaheer, Ishant Sharma (thanks to injuries) and the out-of-favour Harbhajan Singh, what could give also give England a level-playing field (no pun intended) are the new rules of the game which are in place from October. For the first time, two new balls will be used at either end — as in the past — meaning there will be shine on the ball for a longer period of time as each of them will be used for a maximum of 25 overs.
This will give the new ball bowlers from either side a better opportunity for bounce and movement though in the bargain, the reverse swing — bread and butter for bowlers in sub-continent conditions — may be somewhat difficult to extract. However, with the balls retaining its hardness for a longer period, strokemakers will enjoy it coming on to the bat and it could see some even contests between the bat and ball.
The power play regulations have also undergone a change with an eye towards speeding up things in the middle overs. While it remains the same for the first 10 overs, the remaining two five-over quotas will now have to be used up in the span after the 15th over and before the 40th. The batting side can decide on the timing of one powerplay while the bowling side will take a call on the other, but with only 15 of the 25 middle overs being non-power play ones — this phase may see more action rather than an exercise in containment.
While such changes may call for more tactical response from the rival captains, it should make the series an even more open one!