Kolkata: The T20 World Cup in India may be still seven months away, but Indian skipper Virat Kohli started the psychological warfare by calling England the ‘favourites’ ahead of their T20 series which gets underway in Ahmedabad on Friday. All five matches of the high profile series will be played at the gigantic Narendra Modi Stadium - before the cricket caravan shifts to Pune for the One-day Internationals.
‘‘England will be the team to beat in the World Cup, not India,’’ Kohli said with a straight face in reply to a British journalist’s query about both Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler rating India as the favourites for the showpiece. ‘’They cover all the bases with the kind of players that they have,’’ said the Indian skipper, who acknowledged the series as a valuable experiment for the ICC showpiece.
The last edition of the event, hosted in India in 2016, saw the West Indies emerge as a dark horse as they shocked fancied India in the semi-final and then pulled the rug out of England’s feet in the last over to win a thrilling final at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. ‘‘In the last two editions, we lost once in the semi-final and one in final. We would obviously like to cross the final hurdle this time,’’ said Kohli, who incidentally will be leading India in a World T20 for the first time.
The master batsman felt there is a ‘‘big possibility’’ that they would use this series to find out some new options which would help them approach the games in a different manner. ‘‘There are many things which we have spoken about, like we want to be a side which plays free cricket as we have now the depth in our batting lower down the order and will not suffer if the first two-three wickets fall cheaply,’’ he said, possibly alluding to the presence of the likes of Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant and Washington Sundar.
The presence of three quality openers in the team in Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and the veteran Shikhar Dhawan would have posed a tricky question for the team management, but Kohli made it very clear that Rohit and Rahul will be their first choice combination. ‘‘If either of Rohit or Rahul has a niggle, then Dhawan comes in,’’ he said.
The return of experienced seamer Bhubaneswar Kumar to the squad after a year also gives the team more pace bowling options as the exploits of ‘Bhuvi’ in crucial overs in the IPL over the years for his franchise could a well-known plus. ‘‘See, he is smart operator with the ball and wants to contribute in many more Indian wins,’’ Kohli added.
Unlike the Test series, there will be very little to choose from between the two rivals as the England team boasts of an awesome firepower - both with the bat and ball - in this format.
Besides being packed with white-ball cricket specialists, the 16-member T20
squad comprises 13 players who have IPL experience with the likes of Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow and Eoin Morgan being the match-winners in their respective sides.
It came as no surprise that most top English players were retained by their respective IPL franchises ahead of this season and even among those released, Moeen Ali was bought back for a tidy sum.
All-rounder Sam Curran, who represented Chennai Super Kings, had admitted that IPL in 2020 in UAE helped him become a better player. “I definitely felt I came back a much better player from the IPL last year. I think it’s benefited my game,” said Curran.
Only Dawid Malan, Adil Rashid and Reece Topley among the squad of 16 have no IPL experience but Malan too has a contract this year. The left-handed batsman is the world’s top T20I batsman and it was no surprise that Punjab Kings splurged on him.
Catch the match
India vs England
First T20 International
Venue: Narendra Modi Stadium, Ahmedabad
Match starts at 5.30 pm UAE