Dravid set for T20 debut as depleted India seek new start
A week of relative downtime, and India's tour of England is finally up and running. Three low-key county fixtures - against Sussex, Kent and Leicestershire - have given a bruised squad a chance to rediscover that winning feeling,
A week of relative downtime, and India's tour of England is finally up and running. Three low-key county fixtures - against Sussex, Kent and Leicestershire - have given a bruised squad a chance to rediscover that winning feeling, and with a trio of hard-earned victories to fall back on, attention now turns to the limited-overs leg of their campaign, starting with the one-off Twenty20 at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
As far as India are concerned, a change ought to be as good as a rest. A chance to swap their benighted whites for their familiar blue one-day outfits is an opportunity to draw a line under their shortcomings of the Test series, and revert to the mindset of champions. After all, less than five months have elapsed since that night of nights in Mumbai, and no matter how poorly they may have fared in the interim, they'll always have that achievement to fall back on.
Wednesday's fixture, however, is unlikely to prove much about the mindset of either set of players. In Twenty20 cricket, it is England, not India, who are the reigning world champions, although their squad has little in common with the one that triumphed in the Caribbean in 2010, and has been selected very much with a view to next year's defence in Sri Lanka.
A trio of youngsters - Alex Hales, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes - are vying for an opportunity to present their credentials, under the leadership of Stuart Broad, whose captaincy career started edgily against Sri Lanka in June, but will doubtless have benefitted from an injection of confidence courtesy of his Man-of-the-Series performance in the Tests against India.
As for India's line-up, it's a pragmatic blend of old and new. Gautam Gambhir heads back home, and Sachin Tendulkar will sit this match out, but Rahul Dravid, at the age of 38, will make his T20I debut - in recognition, perhaps, of the liveliness of English wickets and the fallibility of some of his batting colleagues against the moving ball. With no Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Gautam Gambhir or Harbhajan Singh, among others, there's an air of experimentation on display in India's selection. But, ahead of the serious business in the ODIs, this is clearly the game in which to test the waters.
Form guide (Most recent first)
In the spotlight
In the build-up to their triumphant World Twenty20 in the Caribbean, England stumbled upon a pair of hard-hitting openers in Craig Kieswetter and Michael Lumb almost by chance. The challenge, with a year to go until the defence of their title, is to find a combination that can prove equally as explosive. Kieswetter endures, even though his problems against the moving ball appear to hamper his effectiveness in English conditions, but Lumb appeared to bid farewell in a flaccid final outing in Bristol. Into the breach, therefore, steps the young Nottinghamshire slugger, Alex Hales, whose raw power has proven effective even in the naturally swinging environment of Trent Bridge. At the age of 22, his time is now.
It's a young man's game, so they say, but not if that man in question is Rahul Dravid. Back in 2007, when India first fell in love with Twenty20 cricket, Dravid, along with Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, opted out of the epoch-changing campaign in South Africa. He didn't even play in India's last World Cup victory, the 50-over version at home, but now, with his country in need of a solid batting presence on the most abject of tours, he's finally been given his bow. In the circumstances, it's little surprise he's announced his retirement from the limited-overs game at the end of this tour. But before then, we'll have a chance to see one of the game's smoothest operators get to grips with the rough and tumble of the fastest format.
With the probable selection of Alex Hales at the top of the order, England are set to field their 19th opening partnership in 38 Twenty20s. The bowling attack is set to have a familiar look to it, with Jade Dernbach's performance in a rain-reduced game against Ireland having cemented his value in the shortest form of the game. Jos Buttler, who once again demonstrated his big-hitting credentials for Somerset on Twenty20 finals day, could find himself squeezed out of the reckoning by fellow newcomer, Ben Stokes.
England: (possible) 1 Craig Kieswetter (wk), 2 Alex Hales, 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Eoin Morgan, 5 Ravi Bopara, 6 Ben Stokes / Jos Buttler, 7 Samit Patel, 8 Tim Bresnan, 9 Stuart Broad (capt), 10 Graeme Swann, 11 Jade Dernbach
Dravid's debut coincides with the end of Gautam Gambhir's tour. He has not been himself since thwacking his head on the Oval turf while dropping Kevin Pietersen in the fourth Test, and has finally bowed out with a concussion. Parthiv Patel, the diminutive wicketkeeper who first made his name on the 2002 tour of England, is set to open the innings, with the twin spin attack of Amit Mishra and R Ashwin also likely to get an outing.
India: (possible) 1 Parthiv Patel, 2 Rahul Dravid, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Rohit Sharma, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt / wk), 7 Amit Mishra, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Praveen Kumar, 10 Munaf Patel, 11 R Vinay Kumar
Pitch and conditions
Old Trafford had a reputation as being one of the quickest decks in world cricket, until the square was rotated as part of the ground's redevelopment. Since then, the pitch conditions have been somewhat subcontinental, although that didn't aid Sri Lanka in their ODI-series-deciding loss earlier in the season. The weather, ever a factor in Manchester, is set fair. Which is nice.
Stats and trivia
England's most recent Twenty20 against India came at Lord's in the 2009 World Twenty20, when Ryan Sidebottom's aggression on a lively pitch helped to defend a middling total of 153 for 7.
The only other Twenty20 between the two teams came in Durban in September 2007, a match made unforgettable by Yuvraj Singh's six sixes in an over off England's current captain, Stuart Broad. Yuvraj finished with the fastest half-century in international cricket, as England were knocked out of the World Twenty20 in the group stages.
"The Test series is hard to forget because from an England point of view we played very well and confidence is high. But it's different in the white-ball game, they have a few new players and we have to be aware of that."
Stuart Broad knows England cannot take their Test dominance for granted
"He went to an eye specialist today and it seems he continues to suffer from concussion."
Shivlal Yadav, India's manager, on the end of Gautam Gambhir's tour