Final frontier beckons England
London: Groaning would in normal circumstances have been the appropriate reaction as England set off for another series of 50-over internationals only a week after the season ended (and just as summer has begun). Not in this case: England's return leg of five one-dayers in India is as significant as any such series could be.
Only once before have England won a one-day international series in India, in 1984-5. So alien are conditions there for England's limited-overs cricketers that it needed serious infighting between Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev India's two best players until that point, and maybe ever for David Gower's team to win 4-1.
In more recent years England's one-day record in India has been gruesome: they have lost 11 of their last 13 internationals against India in their country, winning one, while the other the World Cup qualifier earlier this year ended in a tie. However many runs England have scored, India have scored more, and more quickly.
But now India are, if not there for the taking, then as vulnerable as they have ever been. Most of their famous players who keeled over one by one all save their captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni during their winless tour of England are still injured, and have not been named in India's squad for the first two of the five internationals, on October 14 and 17.
India's new team will be short of famous names and experienced century-makers, although they will be all the better in fielding, and not distracted by whether Tendulkar will make his 100th international hundred. England's players face a key month in their career graphs. If they can crack one-day internationals in India, they are pretty certain to be around until and for the next World Cup all except Kevin Pietersen who will be 34.
Alastair Cook has scored 19 centuries in Tests, two in one-dayers; Jonathan Trott six in Tests, three in one-dayers; Ian Bell 16 in Tests and one in one-dayers. Pietersen has scored 19 in Tests and seven in one-dayers, but three of those came in his first 10 games when he was even keener to impress.
The stark difference between the number of Test and One-Day International centuries made by England batsmen oh, for Marcus Trescothick who made 14 and 12 contributes to the impression of square pegs in round holes that England still give in one-day cricket.
It truly is a scandal that there is no nursery of 50-over cricket in England, the England and Wales Cricket Board having abolished the format without explanation; there is not even a national 50-over competition at under-19 level, which there should be, and as there is in Australia (which has helped Australia to remain No 1 in the ODI rankings, even though India hold the World Cup). Instead, Andy Flower and the England coaches have been forced to create an artificial pathway to the top, in the absence of a proper competition.
Jonny Bairstow, the young Yorkshireman, is the first representative of this new generation of batsmen in England's one-day squad, and the only one. Ben Stokes, of Durham, would be there as well if he could bowl, but instead he has to work on his right index finger which has had two operations already; while Jos Buttler and Alex Hales will go to India for the Twenty20 international at the end of this tour.
These batsmen have grown up with 20-over cricket and range-hitting': batting in the middle and trying to hit every ball over the boundary. So they, like Eoin Morgan and unlike previous generations of England batsmen, have all the shots: the question is whether they can show more haste and less speed by blending these shots into centuries or match-winning finishes.
England's pace bowlers can go a long way to booking a World Cup place if they take wickets with the new ball and contain with the old. It is probably asking too much of them to reverse-swing a ball less than 25 overs old: the biggest of the changes in the playing regulations for one-day internationals, which came into force yesterday, is having one ball for each end.
Steve Finn, Tim Bresnan and Jade Dernbach will surely start as England's first-choice pace attack in India. Chris Woakes is an excellent late-order hitter already, but will need to do more with the old ball if he is to force a way into the England team on two-spinner pitches.