If Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a man in fear of losing his captaincy then the least you can say about him is that he is willing to go down fighting. India may have thrashed England by 127 runs in Kochi but it was the swashbuckling 72 from the under fire skipper that broke the tourists’ spirit and ensured India levelled what could be a pivotal series in his career.
The 31-year-old’s captaincy may regularly come under scrutiny but when he pulls on that blue jersey he is quite simply one of the best limited overs batsmen in the world – as an average of over 52 in 216 ODIs demonstrates. Moreover, his recent one day form against England defies belief, with him averaging 171 in his last nine innings against Alastair Cook’s men – this run includes six half-centuries.
England skipper Cook admitted that his side were ‘out-skilled’ in Kochi, with the holes in his experimental side torn open by a mediocre Indian bowling attack. Such is the reliance on England’s experienced top four that the game was virtually over when Kevin Pietersen and then Eoin Morgan both departed with the score on 73.
One day coach Ashley Giles must also be concerned with his raw bowling attack after it was once again dispatched to all four corners of the ground in Kochi. Steven Finn was the one saving grace as he bowled with real pace and bounce but the jury is still out on Jade Dernbach and Chris Woakes, who never seem able to return economy rates of less than seven or eight.
Despite the humbling loss in Kochi I would not expect to see many changes in the England line-up, with the batting order seemingly set for the series. Tim Bresnan should be pushing for a recall after missing Kochi with a niggle, while spinner Danny Briggs should be in contention after India managed just 96 runs in 22 overs against spin in Kochi, compared to 184 runs in 28 pace overs.
The presence of all-rounders Yuvraj Singh and Ravindra Jadeja in the Indian line-up has allowed Dhoni to juggle his seamers, with Ishant Sharma in particular continuing to struggle. With Sharma contributing just four overs in Kochi his position looks vulnerable with seamers Ashok Dinda and Lakshmipathy Balaji waiting in the wings.
As with Kochi this will be the first one day international hosted at Ranchi with another batsman-friendly pitch promised. The pitch is expected to offer the seamers some help early on so the new ball spells could prove crucial to the result.
I came irritatingly close to a full-house in Kochi with Kevin Pietersen and India both delivering, while Suresh Raina fell just short in the Indian batting line-up despite making another half-century.
With England once again venturing into the unknown at Ranchi I think it would be very unwise to look beyond India (1.64) making it 2-1 here. For England I will once again back Kevin Pietersen, who is due a big score after two stylish starts, while Dhoni represents excellent value at 6.50 to be India's top scorer after his stunning knock in Kochi.