If you are in Kanpur and are on the look-out for a contextual narrative, you would be absolved for starting outside the Green Park Stadium. Unlike the almost-metronomic activities of those inside the old cricket complex, there’s a gripping three-way political contest simmering outside of it – replete with curious coalitions, in-family feuding and the general games for throne. Ajay, a team vendor on the side lanes of the stadium, sums the mood ahead of the city’s first day-night international game succinctly. ‘Asli drama toh yahan hai bhaiyya’ (The real drama is out here, brother)

As is now the norm, no good birthday party (read tour) is complete until a blindfolded child successfully adds a tail to a donkey to rapturous applause. From a more considerate standpoint, after patiently holding on for five Test matches, it is only fair that the TV producers and advertisers stand to make their pound of flesh.

But try telling England that the next World T20 is in 2020 (despite the growing hubbub for a 2018 edition) or that victory in the series will mean very little in the bigger picture of tour – one that has assumed a so-close yet so far theme to it. There’s more than just pride at stake and Tymal Mills, the 24-year-old tearaway quick with a congenital back problem, does admirably well to put the riders on these three games for the next couple of weeks and maybe years in perspective.

“Yes. I’m in the auction for the IPL, so hopefully this series will go well and Ill get picked up. I’m available for the whole tournament whereas I know some guys are not. This series will either help or hinder my reputation.

“Financially I don’t earn very much in the UK playing for Sussex because I’m playing only T20 cricket, I now have to play these T20 tournaments around the world in terms of getting paid. If I get injured, then obviously I don’t play in these tournaments and that affects me in a different way,” he said ahead of the opening clash.

The significance of the series in the backdrop of the immediate past and the future isn’t lost on the Indian think-tank either. Their first act after the 2-1 ODI series win was to wrap Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in cotton wool and prescribe the two lead spinners rest ahead of the more-important red-ball challenges.

Thankfully for the stakeholders of the series, the top draw Virat Kohli is playing – although he is due for a rest sometime now – and will officially complete the takeover as full-time captain of all three formats.

But Kohli being Kohli is always quick to point out that lessons in cricket can be cross-functional. So India, who will not play any 50-over cricket here on until the start of their Champions Trophy title defence, will, at least in theory, “try to use T20 batting as an extension of Test and One-Day batting”. There’s a little rankling over death bowling and opening batting too, which the series could yet serve to yield solutions for.

Most importantly, the games give a chance to a lot of fresh faces, and some old ones too, to present their case for more regular inclusion. Rishabh Pant arrives with the kind of confidence scoring 900-plus runs in a Ranji season over a strike-rate of 100 can give you. Expectedly, he will attract a lot of eyeballs should he do well. Yuzvendra Chahal, Mandeep Singh and Parvez Rasool have done well under Kohli for Royal Challengers Bangalore and would dearly love to replicate their efforts in the vastly different climes of the national team.

And finally, there’s a sub-textual plot involving fresh leases of life. Suresh Raina, so often the heartbeat of white-ball sides, now attempts to rediscover his mojo and as for Ashish Nehra, the veteran once again stands to dispel the age-format corollary.

Team News:


With an eye on the Champions Trophy, India will audition KL Rahul’s temperament and technique at the top of the order despite the Karnataka opener’s failings in the ODI series. The last time Rahul batted in a T20I, in Lauderhill, he went on to score one of the more memorable hundreds in a T20 chase. He should slot in, possibly alongside young sensation Pant, although Mandeep Singh could earn first rights of refusal by virtue of his regular presence in the national set-up of late. The rest of the middle-order should pick itself with Manish Pandey being the unlucky loser once more.

Nehra, returning after a layoff due to a knee surgery, should rekindle his successful partnership with Jasprit Bumrah from the World T20, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s death-bowling abilities perhaps pushing India to sacrifice an additional spinner.

Probable XI: KL Rahul, Mandeep Singh/Rishabh Pant, Virat Kohli (c), Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Amit Mishra/Yuzvendra Chahal, Parvez Rasool/Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Ashish Nehra


T20 specialist Tymal Mills has generated quite a buzz ever since he rattled Chris Gayle with his pace in the Natwest T20 Blast. In the Big Bash League, the Sussex pacer clocked over 150 kmph and should add the left-handed dimension to England’s attack, especially with David Willey ruled out of the first game with a minor shoulder injury. Joe Root returns after sitting out of the Kolkata ODI due to a niggle and will slot back in at No. 3. Chris Jordan’s T20 skills will once more create a toss up between one of the seamers and leg spinner Adil Rashid.

Probable XI: Jason Roy, Sam Billings, Joe Root, Jos Buttler (wk), Eoin Morgan (c), Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Chris Jordan, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid/Jake Ball, Tymal Mills

Cricketers at practice session

What they said:

“There is no doubt about the talent that is available in the English team. As you mentioned, the small window has been an issue. Not many teams would want to spend that much money on someone who is not available for full IPL. He comes and gives great balance to the side and leaves at a crucial stage of the tournament, which doesnt really help the side in any way. I would rather prefer to play a guy who is there for the whole tournament and gives you that extra balance. This is my point of view, franchises might have a different point of view.”

– Virat Kohli has his say on the talk around England players auditioning for an IPL gig in the T20I series.

“Winning is the priority. Part and parcel of winning is improving skills along the way but reinforcing that you’ve done a good job in your skill is winning the game or at least winning one half of the game. Throughout the one-day series, we haven’t put a complete performance together. It’s about tying that in.”

– Eoin Morgan believes the win in Kolkata in the dead-rubber ODI holds his side in good stead as they seek a complete performance.


India (From): Lokesh Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Virat Kohli(c), Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni(w), Suresh Raina, Hardik Pandya, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Ashish Nehra, Manish Pandey, Parvez Rasool, Mandeep Singh, Yuzvendra Chahal

England (From): Jason Roy, Sam Billings, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan(c), Jos Buttler(w), Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Chris Jordan, David Willey, Adil Rashid, Tymal Mills, Jake Ball, Liam Dawson, Jonny Bairstow, Liam Plunkett