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Not a Test, but still a test

- Looking forward to the challenge against one of the best sides: Eoin
Ajinkya Rahane, on Wednesday

Calcutta/Pune: Having fallen short in the longest format, India will hope to make the most of the shortest version of the game in order to restore their merit, at least at home, when the two-match T20 series against England gets underway, here, on Thursday.

The Test series, which was being seen as a chance for the Mahendra Singh Dhonis to prove that their stumble overseas was only a temporary dip, backfired reducing the mighty home stars into ordinary folk.

Questions are being raised about the team and also about the leader. Answers are awaited and they have to be delivered pretty soon.

If there is any chance of the India players escaping the Test series calamity, the job begins on Thursday. Confident victories will only instil confidence in the nation that their sporting idols are still great enough to be worshipped.

Dhoni may take heart from England stand-in T20 captain Eoin Morgan ‘s comment that India are still one of the best sides in the world.

“It’s a great opportunity for me in T20s against one of the best sides in the world. It’s a challenge I am looking forward to,” Morgan said.

In reality, however, Dhoni will have to put the disturbing issues on the back burner and motivate his team. To be honest, the captain himself needs to fire, like the Dhoni of old, in order to inspire his team. His 99-run innings in Nagpur had hints that not everything is out of place. He, too, needs to believe that, no matter what the former players say.

To the home team’s advantage, a younger lot of players like Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayudu, would give the much-needed edge and enthusiasm.

Some of the T20 squad members were not part of the Test series and hence they are not yet scarred by the English bullets. T20s being the favoured genre of the younger generation, they too would be eager to prove a point or two.

The youngsters also bring that the extra zip and verve in the fielding department, which was absent in the Tests. As most of them have been busy playing in the Ranji Trophy for their respective states, they will be match fit too.

Incidentally Rohit, who has been in good form with the bat in the Ranji matches, had top-scored with an unbeaten 55 when the two teams last met in a T20 game, won by India by a whopping 90-run margin, in Sri Lanka earlier this year, during the World T20.

Yuvraj Singh, who flopped in the Test series and was also dropped for the last tie, will be back to the format in which he has excelled in the past.

But opener Virender Sehwag has opted out of the series, and so it has given the chance to Ajinkya Rahane, who warmed the bench right through the Test series, to open the innings with Gautam Gambhir.

Rahane had impressed with a 61 when the two teams met in a T20 game last year, in England and would be eager to get going.

All eyes will be on Virat Kohli as well, the man who is being touted as the next India captain.

He returned to form with a century in the Nagpur Test and has the required talent to be counted among the best in the game. One hopes he rises to the challenge, ensuring that the nation is in good hands.

The new-ball bowling has a fresh look to it in the form of Ashok Dinda, Abhimanyu Mithun, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Parwinder Awana. Dinda and Awana were part of the Test squad in the latter stages but did not get a game, while Mithun has been added as a replacement for his injured Karnataka teammate, R. Vinay Kumar.

The spin bowling department will be manned by Ravichandran Ashwin, who would be extra keen to impress after a disappointing show with the ball in the Test series, all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, who made his Test debut at Nagpur, and Piyush Chawla, who too was part of the team in the drawn final game.

England, meanwhile, have made wholesale changes in their squad with triumphant Test skipper Alastair Cook returning home and replaced at the helm by hard-hitting middle-order batsman Morgan, who was part of the Test team but did not play a single game.

Morgan is the stand-in captain for the injured Stuart Broad, who in turn has been replaced by James Harris.

The absence of Kevin Pietersen, who played a big role in the Test series, would be welcomed by India. The star batsman is not a part of the England T20 team and has also returned home.

England have included T20 specialists like Alex Hales, Jos Butler, Jade Dernbach, James Tredwell, Michael Lumb, Luke Wright and Danny Briggs — some of who have been part of the development squad which played a few matches in Navi Mumbai when the Test series was on.

Match starts: 7pm (IST).