The India v England T20I Series starts tomorrow, and it has the potential to be brilliant. Arguably the two best white-ball sides in the world, facing off in the same conditions that the forthcoming World T20 will be played in, at near full strength. This preview offers analysis of the issues each side face, the key players, with fascinating data insights, things to watch for and the likely XIs, along with a prediction and the full squads, providing all the key info you need...
These two sides are ranked one and two in the ICC standings, and for good reason. They possess strong sides, and will probably head into October's World T20 as favourites. But with their future T20I fixtures before the World Cup being (Sri Lanka, Pakistan at home, Pakistan away for England, none confirmed for India), this is the last big series to ensure they have the correct sides and squads. Neither side is perfect, and this series could further exploit any flaws.
India, for all the batting talent, have not worked out the balance of their side. This is perhaps best illustrated by the explosive Rishabh Pant not playing in India's last T20I series in Australia, as instead the anchor heavy top order of KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, with Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey, two slower batters, also getting games.
Given how good Kohli is, India should be able to play only him as their anchor, and play the more explosive Sanju Samson, Ishan Kishan and Pant, to better exploit their talent. Of course, whether they do this, is another issue.
England's main issue is in the bowling department. In Jofra Archer and Adil Rashid, England have two of the best bowlers in the world. However, their death bowling is inconsistent, with Tom Curran and Chris Jordan either brilliant, or awful. Ben Stokes is not quite good enough to be a reliable fourth bowler, and Moeen Ali's form with the ball has been poor, leaving the second spin option vulnerable.
Sam Curran, Reece Topley and Mark Wood offer varying options, but England's bowling line-up is a struggle, especially in India, where two quality spinners will be needed. I am yet to see how they manage to take early wickets, and bowl economically at the death, with a reliable sixth option, that does not eat into the impressive batting top six.
Hardik Pandya is a phenomenal t20 player, one of the few who can come in and simply hammer the ball to all parts. His strike-rate in T20Is is a brilliant 149.23, especially impressive, given his early international career wasn't flattering. Should England fail to get through the anchor-heavy India top order, then Pandya will exploit a platform.
Also key for India will be leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, who offers control, and can turn the ball both ways. His 219 t20 wickets have come at 24.08, with the economy just 7.57. Given the big-hitting names in the IPL, this is a great record. One of Chahal's skills, is when a batter does get going after him, he manages to bowl very wide outside off, which proves challenging to slog across the line. England will have to be confident driving through the covers to counter this.
Jos Buttler is the reason for the chaos in England's top order, as ever since being promoted to open in the 2018 IPL, and hitting five consecutive fifties, Buttler has had to open for England. With his ability to hit both pace and spin, and play shots all around the wicket, Buttler playing well makes the whole England line-up click, meaning he'll be vital to take down India's bowling attack.
Leg-spin dominates t20 cricket, and in Adil Rashid, England have a gem. While shoulder issues meant he didn't dominate the 2019 World Cup as he might have liked, Rashid spins the ball sharply in both directions, as he proved against Australia and South Africa in late 2020. With England lacking other spin options, his form is crucial.
Watch out for
Virat Kohli's form will be fascinating to see, as despite being one of the best in Test cricket, and the best in ODIs, his t20 strike-rate of 133.95 is not very explosive, and he can get bogged down. While making good scores, they are often not quick enough. A recent example of this was in the third T20I against Australia in late 2020, where Kohli hit 85 off 61. A good innings, right? Well, when dismissed in the penultimate over, India were on 151, way off their target of 187. Now, others should have contributed more. But for an anchor in t20 cricket, if they are going to face half the balls, have to score at least half the runs.
This graph, courtesy of Crickalytics, demonstrates Kohli's issue. He was developed a reliable record, with a solid average. However, his strike-rate is not improving, which can make him a liability, in an anchor heavy side.
It will also be interesting to see how many anchor batters India go for in their final XI, which is often an issue in selection for them. Should they play Suryakumar Yadav (they should!), then the man called SKY could tear England apart, with his classy range of shots.
And, with Jasprit Bumrah out of the series, which of India's pace bowlers will step up? With swing-bowlers Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur, death option T Natarajan, or the experience of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, or pace of Navdeep Saini, they have options, but none are quite as exceptional as Bumrah.
Furthermore, the second spinner is anyone's guess. The accurate Axar Patel, big hitting Rahul Tewatia, mystery of Varun Chakravarthy and all-round talent of Washington Sundar are all in contention.
In Dawid Malan, England have the best ranked batter in the world, according to the ICC. And, with a T20I average of 53.43 at 149.47 strike-rate, Malan's international record is phenomenal. But, the number three struggled to set the Big Bash alight for the Hobart Hurricanes, passing fifty just once in 10 games, with a strike-rate of 113.73. In the final group game, against bottom side Melbourne Renegades, chasing just 151 for a place in the finals, Malan made 34 off 36. When he is good, he is the best, as he showed in South Africa. But when he starts slow, and then fails to accelerate, he could be an issue.
Other interesting things will be, in his second series at four, Jonny Bairstow will be hoping to show that despite his spin struggles in the Tests, he can keep his spot in the middle order.
Whether Jason Roy can find some form, having gone over a year without a T20I fifty now? (Roy was average in the Big Bash, with two fifties in 12 games, striking at 130.51).
The form of Moeen Ali, who, as seen in the IPL auction, remains a highly rated t20 player, but has struggled recently for England. A big hitter of spin, his form is worth watching.
Thanks to Crickalytics, we have their modelling data on the best players in this series.
How does it work?
The Crickalytics Bowler Rankings doesn't just factor in how many wickets a bowler gets in a game, it considers the importance of the wickets a bowler gets, because getting Kohli out on 50 off 25 with 10 overs to go is a lot more crucial than getting out Chahal for a duck with 1 ball to go.
It also factors in dot balls to the model as the build-up of pressure from dot balls is an important factor in T20 cricket. The model creates a score for the bowler for every game using an equation involving dot balls, wicket importance and economy and updates the bowlers career score using exponential smoothing.
Archer is atop the tree here, which shows how good he is. And note the two India spinners next up, followed by another spinner in Rashid. Again, this demonstrates the importance of leg-spin in t20 cricket, with Sundar's off-breaks part of his valuable ability to bowl economically in the powerplay.
The batting rankings are also carefully calculated:
The Crickalytics Batter Rankings considers the negative affect a poor strike rate can have on a game and balances the importance of a quick low score and a slow high score. It gives a batter a score for every innings and updates the batters total score using exponential smoothing.
Eoin Morgan at the top shows just he great he has become, with the model also showing how key an anchor is, with Rahul, Kohli, Dhawan and Malan next up. The question is, how many anchors are needed in a t20 side to ensure players like Morgan can come in and play with freedom to score big.
This is difficult, but here are who I think the sides will go with, not who I would go with:
R. Sharma, KL Rahul, V. Kolhi (c), S. Yadav, R. Pant (wk), H. Pandya, W. Sundar, S. Thakur, B. Kumar, Y. Chahal, T. Natarajan.
J. Buttler (wk),
D. Malan, J. Bairstow,
E. Morgan (c),
The series starts on Friday the 12th of March, with all five games at Ahmedabad (no, I won't give it the proper name!). All are night games as well, which means they start at 1:30pm (GMT). After the opener on the 12th, the next games follow in the 14th, 16th, 18th and 20th.
In the UK, the games will be shown on Sky Sports, with Stuart Broad and Dinesh Karthik among the commentary line-up.
Fans will be in attendance, with the stadium expecting around 80,000.
This should be a great series, and although Bumrah's absence should make it a bit easier for England, at home, I think India will win. A 3-2 win for India is my best guess.
The full squads for the series are below:
Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Yuzvendra Chahal, Deepak Chahar, Shikhar Dhawan, Ishan Kishan, Shreyas Iyer, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, T Natarajan, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant, Axar Patel, KL Rahul, Navdeep Saini, Rahul Tewatia, Shardul Thakur, Varun Chakravarthy, Washington Sundar, Suryakumar Yadav.
Eoin Morgan, Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran Tom Curran, Chris Jordan, Liam Livingstone, Dawid Malan, Adil Rashid, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Reece Topley, Mark Wood.
England also have Jake Ball and Matt Parkinson available as reserves.