Battered India face England challenge

Rajkot: Their egos battered after the debacle against arch-foes Pakistan, India hardly have any time to reflect and plug the loopholes but an inexperienced England attack gives the hosts a slight edge in the five-match ODI series starting here on Friday.

The 1-2 loss to Pakistan had exposed chinks in the Indian batting armour, forcing the selectors to omit off-colour opener Virender Sehwag and replace him with in-form local hero Cheteshwar Pujara in the squad to take on England in the first three games.

However, prolific Saurashtra middle-order batsman Pujara, who slammed his career’s second Ranji Trophy triple hundred on Thursday, may have to wait a little more to make his ODI debut, Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni indicated.

“Well it (ODI debut) looks very unlikely as of now because we have to see the whole batting line-up the position he’s ideally suited for and all those things. As of now, it looks very unlikely,” said Dhoni on the eve of the first ODI against England at the SCA stadium here.

England will again be led by their victorious Test skipper Alastair Cook but their bowling attack, without the presence of several key Test bowlers, appears inexperienced and could be just the tonic needed by the bruised Indian batting line-up to get back into the groove.

Barring Dhoni, who scored a ton and a half ton in totalling 203 runs in the three games against Pakistan, it was a collective batting failure by the Indian top-order in which Suresh Raina, with a modest tally of 92 runs with 43 as his best score, emerged as the second-best batsman.

Opener Gautam Gambhir, who escaped the axe in the aftermath of the series defeat, his Delhi teammate Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh were flops against Pakistan whose pace attack severely dented their confidence.

But against the less-experienced England pace attack, led by Tim Bresnan and Steven Finn, the same set of batsmen ought to flourish, especially on what promises to be a batting-friendly playing surface.

Dhoni conceded that the lack of big opening partnerships has hurt the World Cup champions’ chances in ODIs off late. Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have struggled to cobble together sufficiently big opening partnerships for the rest of the batting line up to build upon.

“The stats suggest that for quite some time we have not got off to a very good start in terms of a (opening) partnership. Yes, the openers have been scoring runs on and off, but we have not been able to get a good partnership between them. We are hoping to get good starts in this series.

Jinx (Ajinkya Rahane) is the new opener. He has played on and off and done decently well,” said Dhoni.

Dhoni, however, sounded unfazed about the criticism he and the team had to go through after a series of losses.

Meanwhile, despite a dominant Test series victory over India a few weeks, England skipper Alastair Cook is wary of the hosts, saying the players of his “underdog” side will have to play out of their skins to repeat success in the One-day series.

“Clearly we are the underdogs in this series but if you look through our side we have got a lot of firepower and world class players. For us to win this series, those world class players and everyone in our squad have to play out of skin,” said Cook ahead of the series-opener.

Squads: India: M.S. Dhoni (Captain), G Gambhir, A Rahane, C Pujara, V Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, S Raina, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashok Dinda, Shami Ahmed

England: Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Ian Bell, Tim Bresnan, Danny Briggs, Joseph Buttler, Jade Dernbach, Steven Finn, Craig Kieswetter(wk), Stuart Meakar, Eoin Morgan, Samit Patel, Kevin Petersen, James Tredwell, Chris Woakes. (PTI)

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