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With series at stake, England hope to break spin shackles

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The most defining sports image of this week came from Moscow. It captured England’s exultant outfield players sprinting towards a new World Cup hero Jordan Pickford while the crest-fallen Colombians endured heartache. It wasn’t just the triumph for a team in a knockout stage fixture. It was England winning on penalties – the rarest combination of words put together in a non-fictional sentence.

In comparison, Eoin Morgan and his battalion’s troubles seem pale. The context of the T20I series is nowhere close, but the truth remains that they too have shackles to break, and soon.

Kuldeep Yadav seemed effortless while spinning his back-of-the-hand web around the England core, effectively killing the game by the innings break in Manchester. So England have now reached out to ‘Merlyn’, the next best option to having an actual left-arm wrist spinner bowl at the players in the nets. Merlyn comes equipped with the ability to bowl any kind of delivery based on the data fed into it, but there’s only so far technology can go. The morning sessions on Thursday would’ve given England’s batting core a chance to tune their minds to the task of facing a bowler like Kuldeep, but would’ve seldom equipped them to read him from the hand – which is quintessential for being able to nullify his variations. England also had their bowling consultant on a 100 days-a-year contract – Saqlain Mushtaq – watch over the net session where the spinners bowled.

Expectedly, Chris Jordan was at the receiving end of a myriad of questions about the impact that the Indian spinners had in the first game. The fast bowler quashed the notion of an inherent weakness against turn and pointed out that England have a better record against spin since 2015 that most team. The most interesting opinion during the course of the interaction, however, was this: “If we still try to stay on the front foot as much as possible and keep putting pressure back on them [Indian spinners], I hope we’ll be okay,” he said.

Counterattacking a spinner who got under their skins in the first game is not the worst route to go down. In fact, it might have a disruptive effect on him. Yet, the dimensions at the SWALEC stadium in Cardiff should also have an impact on any such decisions. Largely, counterattacking against spin has seen batsmen target the square and backward square areas with sweeps and lap shots, but the length of the square boundary might come as a hindrance. The solution then, could be to play a lot straighter – like KL Rahul did on Wednesday – where the fence is short enough for most England batsmen to clear by quite a distance.

The only potential area of concern from the Old Trafford cakewalk for India was that Bhuvneshwar Kumar started the tour with an off day, when his erratic lengths were duly punished. His figures of 4 for 45, including a 20-run over, didn’t matter eventually, but in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, India will hope to have their premier bowler at his peak.

When: July 6, 2018 at 5:30 PM Local (10:00 PM IST)

Where: Sophia Gardens, Cardiff

What to expect: Another sunny evening and a dry surface await the two teams. The average first-innings total at the venue is 145, which both these teams will look to surpass by a big margin.

Team News

England: The hosts don’t quite have options to turn to from the bench. Dawid Malan (Middlesex) and Sam Curran (Surrey) are both going to be at the T20 Blast, leaving Jake Ball as the only one that can come in as a replacement for, perhaps, Liam Plunkett, who conceded 42 in 4 overs at Old Trafford.

But England’s biggest concern isn’t in the second half of the line-up. With Ben Stokes not available till the third T20I in Bristol, there is a feeling of disjointedness to the top and middle-orders. Joe Root at No. 6 seems out of place. Despite his first-ball duck in Old Trafford, the Test skipper is better suited than Alex Hales to deal with India’s spinners from No. 3.

Probable XI: Jos Buttler (w), Jason Roy, Joe Root, Alex Hales, Eoin Morgan (c), Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett/Jake Ball, David Willey, Chris Jordan

India: Krunal Pandya spent sometime bowling in the nets, but India might look to retain the same winning line-up until the series is in the bag.

Probable XI: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli (c), MS Dhoni (w), Suresh Raina, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav

Did you know:

– Rohit Sharma is 19 runs away from becoming the second Indian after Virat Kohli to score 2000 T20I runs

– India are unbeaten in their last seven T20Is, starting from March 8, 2018

– England have a 100 percent win record in T20Is in Cardiff

What they said:

“Kuldeep is a quality spinner, a different spinner, can be quite tough to pick at times. But obviously the boys will be doing their homework, trying to pick up some of the things he did in the last game and try to nullify (them) tomorrow. I hope we can give him a lot less wickets.” – Chris Jordan on dealing with the left-arm wrist spinner.

“Our preparations have been very good. Came here a week before this series started, went to Ireland, played a couple of games and did really well there. We got exactly what we wanted out of those two games as a team and as individuals. So really happy with the mindspace every player is in. As a team we’re enjoying ourselves here in the UK. The way we started is excellent and hopefully we can continue the momentum going into the other games.” – KL Rahul on India’s dream start in UK.

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