India and England. Two of the best ODI sides in the world. Both teams are not at their full strength but given the resources they have, it's been a high-octane series with everything hinging on the final ODI. Unlike the last two ODI series, India will finally want to turn tables with a series win.
One of the good things about this series for both the teams is that it has been played at the same venue. And by now, there is nothing new to discover, with India and England well aware of the pace, bounce, and the wicket as it all boils down to the final ODI of a fairly long tour. It's the series-decider between world's no.1 and no.2 ranked ODI sides. After getting hammered by the visitors in the second ODI, the Virat Kohli-led side will need to change and mix up a few things to give themselves the best chance of not losing their third straight ODI series.
India's top-order needs to throw caution to the wind
In the words of the great Rahul Dravid, there's nothing like a natural game and you have to play the situations. That not only applies to aggressive batsmen toning down but also, relatively slower batters to up the tempo when required. It's England. They chase 300-plus totals like a walk in the park. Pune's wicket is a belter barring the first few overs. India's bowling isn't best in ODIs by any stretch of imagination. For reference, just watch the highlights of the last Australia ODI series where first-choice Indian bowlers copped heavy pasting. But still both Virat Kohli and KL Rahul reckoned that 300 runs was going to be enough in the last game, which was bizarre.
India were lucky to win the first ODI as some terrible batting from England cost them the game, or else, they were breezing through the chase. Kohli had even accepted that India’s first ODI total was under-par, yet there was hardly any intent in the first five overs on Friday as India made 13/1. The Men in Blue need to stop paying so much respect to a fairly mediocre and inexperienced English pace attack and also stop seeing the Pune pitch as some green mamba because it ain't that. And no one is saying to go madly after the bowlers. Look at the England openers in the second ODI. They hardly went gung-ho yet made 59. Difference being, they didn't shut shop and showed reasonable intent if anything.
India have hardly used the powerplay overs, making 39 and 40 respectively. In the first 25 overs in both the games, India have accumulated 117 and 112 while England have plundered 176 and 167 runs respectively. It's a clear cut case of one side easing the middle-lower-order players and the other putting maximum pressure. India don't need to look any further than their objective for the T20I series earlier - throw caution to the wind and play fearless cricket. India, anyways, bat deep with the likes of Shardul Thakur and Bhuveshwar Kumar, which is what made their approach in the first two ODIs, even more flabbergasting.
Send in Pant at 4 to utilize the middle-overs
India's top four is more or less the same in terms of style. And given the X-factor that Rishabh Pant brings to the team, he can be utilized at the no.4 position to make better use of the middle-overs. With just four fielders allowed outside the 30-yard circle between 10-40 overs, it was criminal to let Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid get away with 112 runs off 20 overs in the second game on a pitch that had nothing for spinners. Moeen got away with 47 runs in 10 overs bowling predominantly against two right-handers with just a boundary off his bowling that also came off a misfield.
This is where a fairly aggressive Rishabh Pant can inject his madness and rapidly increase the run-rate. In any case, India will have the solidity of KL Rahul to back up at 5, if anything goes wrong. And when it comes to power-hitting, Hardik Pandya at six can take more responsibility like he did against Australia, where he similarly played like a specialist batsman as in the ongoing series. Also, Shardul Thakur can be a good hitter at death and there is also Bhuvneshwar Kumar who extends India's batting depth.
Time to drop Kuldeep and Krunal
Indian spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Krunal Pandya need to be benched after how poorly they have fared thus far. In 35 overs, they've conceded 283 runs at an economy of 8.09 with just a wicket. Kuldeep Yadav has looked completely out of depth. He was clueless when Ben Stokes started attacking him and kept on doing the same thing - erring on lengths, flighting the ball and getting hit for sixes. As much as India would want to back him, given it's a series-decider, Yuzvendra Chahal should walk into the XI.
For Krunal as well, he's a bowling all-rounder and can't get away with such poor bowling as harsh it would be after his dream ODI debut but that's about it. He has given away 131 runs in 16 overs with a lone wicket at an ER of 8.19. However, Krunal shouldn't be replaced with Washington Sundar as he might similarly get annihilated like the elder Pandya given he has also been a 6-7 overs per game kind of bowler in List A cricket. Also, England got a measure of him in the T20I series and given how they have been hammering bowlers with lesser pedigree, it would be better to pick a specialist bowler instead. Also, Sundar lacks the dynamism to add much at no.7.
His state teammate T Natarajan will be a better option. Not only does he provide the left-arm versatility, but has the required variations to bowl effectively even when batsmen are trying to shift gears. And, not to forget, his death overs prowess. Also, pacers have taken 22 wickets with an ER of 6.21 in the ongoing ODI series which is far better in comparison to the spinners, who only have had two scalps with an expensive ER of 7.29. So, it makes sense to go with a lone spinner given the wicket as well.
Give more overs to Bhuvneshwar early on; use Prasidh as an enforcer
English openers have had three consecutive century-stands in ODI cricket against India with two coming this series. It's quite clear, it's the English top three vs the Indian bowlers. That's the game. England's middle-order is vulnerable as was the case in the first ODI or can be in the series-decider with Eoin Morgan and Sam Billings already missing out. And this is where India needs to attack them aggressively. Unlike the first two ODIs, they need to give an extended spell to Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
The experienced Indian campaigner has troubled the English openers the most and can be used for the kill. There have been instances when teams have used their premier bowler for an extended spell. In the 2013 Kochi ODI, Bhuvneshwar himself had bowled 10 overs on the trot, that too against England, taking three wickets for 29 runs, breaking the back of the opposition and helping India win. He can bowl, at least, seven overs, if not more. With T Natarajan and Shardul Thakur in the team, they can take care of the death overs.
Similarly, Prasidh Krishna needs to be used after the first 10 overs. He's a completely different bowler in non-powerplay overs. In the first 10 overs, the right-armer has given away 62 runs in seven overs without a wicket at an ER of 8.86 while in non-powerplay overs, he has taken six wickets with an economy of 4.48. He bowls with far greater control and accuracy with more fielders saving the boundary. In fact, he can be used as an enforcer in the middle-overs after Bhuvneshwar's extended spell alongside Yuzvendra Chahal. With this English batting, the best way to save runs is to take wickets. After the second ODI, who knows it better than the Indian team.