It could be argued that England are playing this one day series at exactly the right time against a struggling India side who have just lost tamely to their rivals Pakistan (1st ODI: starts 6.30am GMT, Friday).
MS Dhoni’s men were poor throughout their three most recent matches but the tourists will have to be wary of a much improved seam attack that contains something of a secret weapon.
The Indian side will have taken few positives from that Pakistan defeat but the find of that series was undoubtedly Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The seamer may not be fast but he bowls a straight line and took a wicket with his first ball in ODI cricket ahead of a promising debut series. Elsewhere, the quicker bowlers – Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda and Shami Ahmed also looked threatening at times but India’s spin department was disappointing.
Senior man Ravi Ashwin had a poor tournament by his high standards and looked innocuous throughout. Overall, it’s an oddly balanced bowling attack that awaits England but can Alastair Cook (pictured) and his men take advantage?
Cook himself enjoyed a prolific year in 2012 and that included centuries in the one day arena against the West Indies. Although he is primarily known as a test match specialist, Cook scores quickly in the 50 over game and he formed a useful partnership with Ian Bell at the top of the order.
It remains to be seen whether the selectors will retain Bell as an opening batsman or restore the recalled Kevin Pietersen to the top of the order. Whatever the decision, this is starting to resemble one of the strongest One Day batting orders that England have had for some time. Following Cook, Bell and Pietsersen, the explosive Eoin Morgan, will join the Somerset pair of Jos Buttler and Craig Kieswetter in a powerful middle order.
The contest between England’s batting and India’s bowling should be a fairly even one but the key to the whole game lies with India’s underachieving batsmen. Only Dhoni himself emerged with any credit after the three matches with Pakistan and that has led to one important change.
Chesteshwar Pujara has been called into the side to make his one day debut and it’s likely that he will start in Rajkot on Friday. Like Cook, Pujara is known primarily as a patient accumulator of runs in the first class game but he has the quality to make a real difference to this side.
Aside from Pujara and Dhoni, the likes of Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh have all been in poor form and will have to raise their game to avoid another series defeat.
They will face an England bowling attack led by Tim Bresnan and Steven Finn and backed up by the spin of James Tredwell and Samit Patel. It looks an economical unit but can the English bowlers take enough wickets in the same way that the Pakistanis did last time out?
The real battle lies between the Indian batsmen and England’s attack and for this first match, I expect the home side to improve and compile a total that will be beyond the reach of Cook’s men.
This Preview’s Betting Tip: India to win at best odds of 8/11 with Boylesports.