India find themselves in a flimsy situation as they head into the three-match ODI series in England with the possibility of lacking the services of both their frontline fast bowlers. Jasprit Bumrah's injury in the first T20I against Ireland last month ruled him out of the entire limited-overs leg, while Bhuvneshwar had to skip the third T20I with a stiff back, and is in danger of sitting out of the Trent Bridge fixture.
On the eve of the first ODI, Bhuvneshwar indulged in light jogging while the rest of the players set themselves up for the nets sessions. He spent some time in the company of Umesh Yadav at one of the nets, but did not bowl. Siddarth Kaul, meanwhile, operated under the supervision of bowling coach Bharat Arun, and spent a lot of time taking feedback.
Rohit Sharma's response to a question on the fast bowler's fitness added to the uncertainty surrounding his availability. "Bhuvi [Bhuvneshwar Kumar] has come here to train. He's going to see how the net session goes for him. He's going to try and bowl and see how he feels. Obviously the physio and the captain will take the call later once we finish his training session, but he looks fine to me as of now. Hopefully he'll be ready to take the fieldtomorrow," Rohit Sharma said. 'Try and bowl' could be the key here, as Bhuvneshwar didn't, throughout the three-hour sessionon Wednesdayafternoon.
Bhuvneshwar's absence at a venue like Trent Bridge is going to sting bad as it has proved to be the summit of England's revolutionary climb in ODI batsmanship. They've amassed inconceivable scores twice in a row at the venue, each time setting a new benchmark for the highest ODI totals. England's paradigm shift in batting is evident in their numbers since their early exit at the 2015 World Cup: they've scored at 5.52 runs per over in the first powerplay, raised it to 5.90 between the 11th and 40th overs and then hit their peak between 41 and 50 overs with a run rate of 8.09 in the period since that tournament - each the best in its category. And Bhuvneshwar's economy rate in each of those phases - 4.58, 5.78 and 6.83 respectively - and a fantastic strike rate of 22.57 at the death where England at their lethal best, provides a clear picture of what India might miss.
Bhuvneshwar's unavailability will also have an impact on how the rest of the XI shapes up and the responsibilities handed out. Along with Kaul, Suresh Raina was the earliest with the ball in hand in the nets and is likeliest to slot in at No.6 or 7 and offer a few overs. But the fact that Raina hasn't played a single ODI since 2015 might turn India's attention towards Axar Patel. Axar comes into the series with nine wickets in six games for India A in England, last of which came on July 2.
Axar's inclusion might weaken India's batting, but his ability to put the brakes and build up the dot-ball pressure could be handy in the middle overs, and afford Kohli the option of using at least one of Kuldeep or Chahal a little more at the death.
The best time for the wrist-spin duo to bowl is evidently the middle-overs - in the period since the marquee event in 2015, they've picked 56 wickets together in between overs 11 and 40, and have both conceded at less than five-an-over - but their strike rate (22.43 for Chahal and 14.26 for Kuldeep) and average (19.00 for Chahal and 11.25 for Kuldeep) at the death should coax the Indian management to keep their options open. More so since their other fast bowling options - Umesh Yadav, Shardul Thakur and the uncapped Siddarth Kaul - have played a sum total of 40 ODIs - as many as 46 fewer than Bhuvneshwar's tally alone. Only two of Shardul's eight wickets for India A in the tri-series in England came in the last 10 overs.
All of this also means that India's fifth bowling option Hardik Pandya has to step up as well. The allrounder has bowled his entire quota of 10 overs on only 10 out of the 37 innings he has had to bowl thus far. In many of those 27 other games, oppositions have been bowled out early, giving his captain the leeway of not having to bowl him out, but against a full-strength England team in full flow, that option might not be easily available. Interestingly, his strike rate (19.25) and economy rate (5.69) at the death - where he hasn't bowled much - are impressive. And in the third T20I in Bristol, he showed he was battle-ready.