England captain Eoin Morgan has been ruled out of the remainder of the ODI series against India due to injury. 

Morgan required four stitches in his right hand after the batsman split the webbing between his thumb and index finger in an opening match that was won by India on Tuesday. 

England's white-ball captain took part in a fielding drill at the MCA Stadium on Thursday but declared himself unfit to feature in the two remaining contests in Pune. 

Jos Buttler will lead the team in the absence of Morgan, while Liam Livingstone is to make his ODI debut in the second match of the series on Friday. 

Morgan said: "I had the hand re-dressed before the start of training today [Thursday] but it quickly became apparent that I found myself protecting the injury and getting into the wrong positions to catch the ball. 

"There's nowhere to hide on the field in international cricket these days, especially in limited-over formats so it didn't require any great thought to make myself unavailable. 

"It was a freak injury and it's extremely frustrating but there's nothing I can do about it. It's now just a case of letting the cut heal. I have every confidence in Jos and the rest of the squad coping without me." 

Sam Billings will not feature in the second ODI and the batsman will be checked again ahead of the final encounter on Sunday, having bruised his left collarbone in a 66-run defeat on Tuesday. 

Dawid Malan, already in the touring party as cover, has been added to the squad.

Gareth Southgate is set to bring up 50 games in charge when England start their qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup.

San Marino are the visitors to Wembley Stadium for the milestone match, with Southgate the seventh to make it to a half-century at the helm for England.

His record so far is impressive: 29 wins, 10 draws and 10 defeats. He has also introduced some notable names to international football, many of which will form the backbone for the Three Lions in this year's delayed Euro 2020 tournament. 

In total, 42 players have made their senior debuts under the current boss. Plenty have made an impact, though some have fallen by the wayside since getting a taste of the senior team. 

HITS 

Jesse Lingard 

Lingard is the only member of the current England squad to have made his debut in Southgate's first match in charge, a 2-0 win over Malta in October 2016. The 28-year-old was a key member of the 2018 World Cup squad but has not featured for his country since the Nations League Finals nearly two years ago, having struggled for minutes at Manchester United. 

However, a January loan move to West Ham has paid off. No player has been involved in more goals – Lingard has scored five while also providing two assists – since his debut for the Hammers in February. Southgate – who advised the player to remain in the Premier League – has duly taken note, handing him a recall. 

Harry Maguire 

Maguire made his first England appearance against Lithuania in October 2017, when he was playing for Leicester City. The centre-back quickly established himself in Southgate's side for the World Cup semi-final run, while he has continued to be a mainstay since for the national side.  

Indeed, the Manchester United defender has missed just 14 possible outings for club and country since that maiden outing, starting 28 out of England's 30 matches. 

Kieran Trippier 

Paris was the setting for Trippier's bow, the full-back handed a chance in a 3-2 friendly defeat against France that saw him start alongside then-Tottenham team-mates Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Harry Kane. 

Now playing his club football in Spain with Atletico Madrid, the 30-year-old continues to be a key attacking outlet for Southgate's teams. His total of 55 chances created since June 2017 is comfortably the highest for England, with striker Kane second on the list with 37. 

Jordan Pickford 

No player has both played and started more games for England under Southgate than Pickford, whose debut came in November 2017.  With 30 appearances, he sits one ahead of Maguire.

The Everton goalkeeper will not be involved as his manager celebrates his 50th match at the helm, though, as an abdominal muscle injury sees him missing for March's World Cup qualifiers. His absence also offers some of his rivals for the starting job an opportunity to stake their claim to be considered number one, with Pickford's form having been somewhat unconvincing for a while.

Declan Rice 

Rice's introduction to action for England came via a substitute appearance during a 5-0 win over the Czech Republic two years ago, replacing Alli just after the hour mark. 

The midfielder started all six of the Nations League qualifiers in 2020-21, including scoring his first international goal in a 4-0 triumph over Iceland. As for his club career, only Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole played more minutes in the Premier League for West Ham than Rice before the age of 22.


MISSES 

Nathaniel Chalobah 

Having represented England through the youth levels from under-16s upwards, Chalobah has so far played one solitary minute for the senior team, with his late, late opportunity coming against Spain in October 2018.  

Since then, the former Chelsea midfielder has started just 42 league games for Watford. This season he is plying his trade in the Championship, contributing three goals and an assist as the Hornets aim for an immediate return to the top flight. 

Dominic Solanke 

Solanke was part of the England squad that won the 2014 European Under-17 Championship, including scoring in a final against the Netherlands that was eventually settled by a penalty shoot-out. 

His senior debut came against Brazil in November 2017, but he has not been involved since. The striker signed for Bournemouth in January 2019 but failed to score in his first 38 Premier League appearances for the club, a barren run finally ended with a brace against Leicester in July 2020. He has been far more prolific in the Championship, getting 11 goals.

Lewis Cook 

Cook had success with England at youth level, captaining the squad that went all the way at the Under-20 World Cup. Solanke was also involved in that tournament, along with full internationals Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Dean Henderson - who was not first choice in goal - and Fikayo Tomori. 

The midfielder's maiden appearance for the senior side earned his grandfather a tidy windfall through a winning bet, but that outing as a substitute against Italy at Wembley remains his only cap. Since then, he has started 58 games for Bournemouth, scoring once. 

Jack Cork 

Another to be handed a late cameo by Southgate, Cork featured for all of four minutes in a friendly with Germany in November 2017. A young line-up that included new faces Pickford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek managed a 0-0 draw at Wembley. 

The midfielder – who was part of the Great Britain squad coached by Stuart Pearce at the 2012 Olympic Games in London – was a regular at Burnley before injuries hampered him in the current season, restricting him to just nine league outings for Sean Dyche's team in the 2020-21 campaign. 

Lewis Dunk 

Dunk has helped Brighton and Hove Albion rise from League One to the Premier League, with his performances earning him an England opportunity against the United States in November 2018. He started in a 3-0 win that saw Wayne Rooney make his 120th and final appearance for the Three Lions. 

The centre-back has not featured since, however, despite remaining a mainstay for his club. Since August 2018, Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk (10) is the only defender to have scored more Premier League goals than Dunk's impressive total of nine.  

Mason Mount is relishing the battle for places in the England team, particularly with Jack Grealish and Phil Foden in the long term. 

England manager Gareth Southgate has something of an embarrassment of riches in the attacking positions at the moment, with a host of players thriving at club level. 

Mount has been a key man for Chelsea this term, playing more minutes (2,231) than any of his team-mates, while his 69 chances created is 41 more than anyone else. 

He has been a creative pillar for the Blues, as further evidenced by his 168 passes into the box being by far the most among Chelsea players, while the fact he quickly won his place back after being left out for Thomas Tuchel's first game in charge speaks to his impressive mentality. 

That attitude will surely stand him in good stead not only at club level but also for England, whose creative options seem to be improving with each international window.

 

The advantage that Mount believes he has, however, is his versatility. 

"I am always trying to improve," he told reporters ahead of England's opening 2022 World Cup qualifier against San Marino on Thursday. "I feel like I am versatile and can play in a deeper role and obviously in a more forward role. I'm always learning. I'm still young and I'm still learning. 

"In terms of the formation, we are versatile as a team. In the modern game, you have to be ready to change if the other team are tactically different to what you have prepared for. 

"We are ready for that, definitely. I feel like I can play in any position and I just want to understand, more and more, different positions." 

Elaborating on England's strength in depth, Mount added: "There are so many good players in this team. 

"I've seen Jack and Phil do brilliant things. It motivates me to want to do the same. We all have ambitions to win major trophies, at England and at club level we're all competing to want to do that." 

Of course, Mount's comments help pose the question: can he line up alongside Grealish and Foden in the same team? 

Well, they have done once already – against Iceland in November 2020, as all three started and England won 4-0. 

Mount, occupying a deeper role, did catch the eye as he got the Three Lions' second goal, though Foden and Grealish were arguably more impressive. 

 

Playing from the left, Grealish – whose 75 key passes in the Premier League this season is bettered by only Bruno Fernandes – was lively and created three chances, while also winning 81.8 per cent of his 11 duels. 

Of those involved in three duels or more, only Harry Maguire (15, 86.7 per cent) produced a stronger display, highlighting Grealish's competitive streak in the final third. 

Foden's performance had a similar relentlessness to it, his record in duels identical to the numbers for Grealish, though he was more decisive in attack when on the ball. 

The Manchester City talent scored twice, got an assist and laid on three chances, behind only Harry Kane on four. 

As such, Mount's display could be considered a little less impactful for England going forward. Sure, his 87.8 per cent pass completion rate in the opposing half was good, but none were considered key passes. 

It suggests that, while certainly possible to get all three into the line-up, if Southgate is to persist with his 3-4-3 formation, Mount will be the one shoe-horned into the team. 

With that in mind, it seems likely Mount's greatest strength – his creativity – could become stifled. 

However, with Grealish absent through injury, Mount has another opportunity to stake his claim as a key player in this team – succeeding in that respect will surely be reflected by an elevated status, with England's central midfield often crying out for more creativity in recent years. 

England boss Gareth Southgate has left it up to his players to decide whether they will take a knee prior to kick-off against San Marino.

The Three Lions start their qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup with a fixture against the European minnows on Thursday at Wembley.

Since Project Restart last June, teams across Britain have taken a knee prior to the start of matches in a show of unity against racial abuse and discrimination.

However, with fans still unable to attend matches, the abuse received by players of ethnic minorities has not been stemmed, with several England stars having been the victims of abuse on social media.

Jude Bellingham – Borussia Dortmund's 17-year-old midfielder – has been the latest recipient. 

Several club sides have now stopped taking a knee before matches, while Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha recently claimed the symbol was nothing but a token gesture which does not go far enough to tackle the problem.

Last week, former England midfielder and current Rangers manager Steven Gerrard demanded UEFA take action after Glen Kamara alleged to have been abused by Slavia Prague's Ondrej Kudela, who played as the Czech Republic thrashed Estonia on Wednesday.

When asked if England would be taking a knee, Southgate told a news conference: "I've spoken with the leadership team about this last night and I've asked them to talk with the other players.

"I think it's a good process to hear each others' views first and foremost and that's part of how we educate ourselves in all of these different matters and issues.

"The one thing we're very clear on is that we'll be unified in whatever we do and if there's any doubt then I think we'll take the knee.

"I'm hugely respectful of everybody's individual opinions on that. I think there's still an impact from it but I listened to Wilfried Zaha's comments on it, for example, and I thought he spoke really well that it wasn't enough and it seemed to now be just part of the background.

"It's complicated, the debate around whether we should take the knee or not, or walk off the pitch. The core problems are with racism and discrimination – they're the deeper conversations that need to happen.

"The protests help put those conversations on the table but we've got to address the much deeper issues as much as we have to make a symbolic gesture."

Southgate was also asked if players would be best advised to delete social media channels to avoid abuse, though the England manager does not believe that to be a solution.

"The first thing is that clearly it's unacceptable for anybody to be receiving this sort of abuse," he said.

"It's a very complex situation for what action the players might take because [social media] is a brilliant tool for communicating with the fans. With no fans in the stadiums, to lose all contact with the fans is not something we want.

"Equally if that interaction is bringing that negativity and abuse into your life, nobody wants to put up with that.

"We need stricter legislation around the control of those sites. I know that's a complex issue because of people in countries not to have a freedom of speech is a restriction. It's not an easy thing to police because it can be worldwide. We just need to make a stand on everything to say racism is not acceptable."

Harry Kane will not be allowed to pick and choose when he plays for England, Gareth Southgate has said.

Southgate became embroiled in something of a verbal tussle with Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho earlier this season over the England manager's use of talisman Kane.

The Three Lions captain started twice in the Nations League in November, playing the entire game in a 2-0 loss to Belgium before going off in the 76th minute during a 4-0 rout of Iceland.

Kane is on 32 international goals, 21 shy of Wayne Rooney's all-time record of 53 strikes for the Three Lions.

At 27, Kane has Rooney's record well in his sights, but asked if he will let his skipper choose when he plays over the course of the three World Cup qualifiers coming up for England, Southgate laid down the law.

"If I allowed Harry to make that decision, he'd play every minute!" said Southgate, who will celebrate his 50th match in charge of England when his team host minnows San Marino on Thursday.

"So that won't be happening. It's brilliant we've got a captain who wants to play every minute of every game.

"We've got to be mindful he had extra-time last Thursday and another high-intensity game on Sunday. We've got that situation with a lot of the players really.

"We've got to make sure we manage the fixtures correctly, we've got to manage training this week as well.

"And of course we've got to be just as fresh for the games with Albania and Poland as we do tomorrow night so that's not an unusual challenge for us and our coaching team, and for our medical team and physical performance team.

"But we always communicate well with the players and I think we're in a good place going into the game tomorrow."

Kane has scored 20 goals in 19 appearances in qualifiers for major tournaments, with only Rooney (30) netting more in these games in England's history. 

Southgate, meanwhile, will be the seventh manager to reach the 50th game milestone for the Three Lions.

He has won 29 of his 49 games so far (D10 L10), and a win would see him equal Ron Greenwood and Roy Hodgson's 30 wins in their first 50, but three behind the record of 33 set by Alf Ramsey and Walter Winterbottom.

While Kane will no doubt be a key figure for England this month, two players who may not be involved are Marcus Rashford and Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka.

Rashford is at St George's Park but is struggling with an injury, while Saka is yet to join up with the squad.

"They're both doubtful," Southgate confirmed. "Marcus is more doubtful than Bukayo at the moment but we're going to assess them.

"Marcus has been very keen to be with us. He wasn't with us so much in the autumn so he's been keen to be part of the group.

"Bukayo has been getting assessed at the club but he'll be with us in the next couple of days."

 Cricket West Indies (CWI) and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) today announced an expanded match schedule for England’s tour of the Caribbean in 2022.

The January 2022 Tour will now feature five T20 Internationals (T20Is) – increased from three matches – to be followed by England returning to the Caribbean for three Test matches in March – increased from the original two Test matches.

The Test series will be the first in which the two teams compete for the newly commissioned Richards-Botham Trophy, named in honour of West Indies’ batting icon Sir Vivian Richards and England’s great all-rounder Lord Ian Botham.

The T20I series will be the biggest series to date between the two teams in the shortest form of the game and will be part of the preparations building up to the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in Australia in October 2022.

“This expansion of next year’s England tour to the Caribbean is welcomed news for West Indies Cricket and for the region’s tourism economy. It has come about because of the special relationship that has been developed between our respective boards and we are looking forward to working with ECB Chair Ian Watmore, and CEO Tom Harrison, to expand our partnership even further into new areas of cooperation and support,” said CWI President Ricky Skerritt.

“We have already begun discussions on how the ECB can help us in our development programs and I am pleased that ECB has been showing so much appetite and goodwill to assist.”

Johnny Grave CWI CEO expressed his pleasure at the development.

“We are delighted that the ECB has agreed to increase the number of matches in their tour to the Caribbean next year,” he said.

“An England tour to the West Indies is a special event, so adding a third Test match and two T20Is to the original schedule it will enable more fans to watch the teams do battle and afford more of our countries the opportunity to host matches.”

Meanwhile, Ian Watmore, Chair, England and Wales Cricket Board said discussions between the two boards had been ongoing since the West Indies toured the UK in the summer of 2020.

"We hugely appreciated the support of Cricket West Indies, and all its men’s and women’s players, in helping us host a full season of international cricket in the summer of 2020. Following the conclusion of those tours to England we have been in discussions with CWI to understand how we can best support them moving forward and one way was to extend our existing England men’s tours to the Caribbean in 2022,” Watmore said.

Tom Harrison, Chief Executive Officer, England and Wales Cricket Board said they were thrilled to be able to expand the number of games for the respective formats.

"A tour to the Caribbean is one of the most iconic for both England players and fans alike. So, we are delighted to confirm that our England men’s team will play two additional IT20s and one more Test Match as part of their planned tours in January and March respectively,” Harrison said.

“The three Test-match series will form part of the next ICC World Test Championship, whilst the additional IT20s will provide our England men’s team with valuable preparation ahead of the ICC World T20, which takes place in Australia later that year."

The venues for the matches are expected to be announced by the end of April.

 

Proposed Match Schedule

Friday, January 28: 1st T20 International

Sunday, January 30: 2nd T20 International

Wednesday, February 2: 3rd T20 International

Friday, February 4: 4th T20 International

Saturday, February 5: 5th T20 International

Tuesday, March 1 to Friday, March 4: warm-up match

Tuesday, Mar 8 to Saturday, March 12: 1st Test Match

Wednesday, March 16 to Saturday, March 20: 2nd Test Match

Thursday, March 24 to Monday, March 28: 3rd Test Match

Jesse Lingard has revealed Gareth Southgate pointed him down the path towards an England recall.

Southgate will take charge of his 50th game when England begin their World Cup qualifying campaign against San Marino at Wembley on Thursday.

His first, against Malta in October 2016, was also Lingard's international debut and the attacking midfielder became one of Southgate's key performers as England charted a surprise run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup.

However, struggles for form and fitness at Manchester United, along with difficulties in his private life, saw Lingard fall out of the Three Lions picture.

In January he joined West Ham on loan and has been a player revitalised.

Five goals in seven Premier League appearances for David Moyes' men earned an England recall for the 28-year-old, who thanked Southgate for his counsel and his influence over the Hammers move.

"He's shown a lot of support and belief in me, he gave me my England debut, which I'm proud of," Lingard told talkSPORT.

"I still kept in contact with him even though I wasn't playing, just to get his advice on what I should do.

"It was just about the right move, whether it was going out to Europe or staying in the Premier League.

"He said, 'If I was you, I would stay in the Premier League'. After that, it was about finding a Premier League side and West Ham fitted in perfectly."

Since his West Ham debut against Aston Villa on February 3, only Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho (six) has more Premier League goals than Lingard (five), while he is level with England captain Harry Kane and Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan over the period in question.

His 12 shots on target are a joint Premier League best along with Kane, giving him a shot conversion rate of 23.8.

Lingard also has two assists for the Hammers and has created eight opportunities for team-mates overall.

 

Another man in from the cold, although less dramatically, is Manchester City centre-back John Stones.

Like Lingard, Stones was a mainstay at Russia 2018 but last played for England in November 2019 after his club form dwindled.

However, a supreme centre-back alliance with Ruben Dias for Premier League leaders City made a recall for the 26-year-old a virtual formality – not that he necessarily viewed it that way.

"It was difficult watching from home," Stones told reporters, having also acknowledged Southgate "texted now and then" when he was out of favour.

"You feel a bit helpless that you can't contribute and be a part of the squad, but I used it as a motivation to strive to be better.

"When I got the text the other day, it was a great feeling to be back involved and see all the faces I've got some great memories with.

"I was very nervous. I had worked so hard and I was hearing people say, 'you should be in'.

"But I didn't take any of that in until the text arrived. I wanted to hear from the source. I was absolutely made up."

City remaining in contention for four major honours shows how impressive their overall performances have been this season, but with Stones in the team their record verges on the absurd.

In 20 games where the former Everton defender has not played, Pep Guardiola's men have won 13, drawn five and lost two for a 65 per cent win rate. In these games they conceded 19 times.

Out of Stones' 26 appearances, City have won 24 alongside a draw and a loss and have conceded only seven times. This tallies to 0.3 goals against and 2.8 points per game and a win percentage of 92.3.

It's entirely possible the staging of the 2021 European Under-21 Championship will have passed many people by, given the fact it's taken on a somewhat peculiar format of a mid-season group stage with the knockout phase following two months later.

Originally due to take place solely in June, organisers were forced into a re-think following last year's postponement of the senior competition. It was decided to split the Under-21s' event in two, therefore avoiding a clash.

Despite the rather unconventional format, the competition will see many of the continent's most-promising prodigies on display.

The tournament, based in Hungary and Slovenia, begins on Wednesday with the Magyars hosting Germany, and we have identified some high-potential talents to keep an eye on.

Alban Lafont, France – Goalkeeper

Lafont has been a regular at this age-group level with France for many years, but a brief stint at Fiorentina in 2018-19 did not go to plan, with the Toulouse youth product freely admitting his performances "were not the best" as he secured to a loan move to Nantes ahead of last season.

Only Andrea Consigli (six) made more than Lafont's four errors leading to shots in Serie A two seasons ago, but his dependability appears to have improved considerably since returning to France, with no shots occurring because of errors by him in 57 Ligue 1 matches.

He also produced a particularly strong performance in the shock 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain earlier this month, making four saves including a couple of eye-catching stops to thwart Angel Di Maria.

 

A closer at Lafont’s performances for a struggling Nantes side in 2020-21 reveals he has not had the greatest campaign. When discounting own goals and penalties by the opposition, Lafont has allowed 3.5 goals more than the ‘average’ goalkeeper would have been expected to concede in Ligue 1 this season (37 conceded, 33.5 xG on target).

The metric ‘Goals Prevented Rate’ can account for different goalkeepers facing a different volume of shots through a period of time. An example of this is that PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas has a goals prevented rate of 1.37 this season, meaning for every non-penalty goal that Navas has conceded (excluding own goals), the average goalkeeper would be expected to concede 1.37. Lafont’s rate of 0.91 this season is 10th out of 17 goalkeepers to have played 1800 minutes of French top-flight football in 2020-21.

 

Additionally, France's regular at this level knows he has a very capable understudy in Illan Meslier breathing down his neck.

Prior to his 21st birthday earlier in the month, Meslier broke the record for the most clean sheets by an under-21 goalkeeper in a single Premier League season (eight) and has since added another to that figure.

That means he has three times as many shutouts as Lafont, which is intriguing because it raises the question of why then has Meslier not conceded fewer goals?

For starters, it suggests Lafont is more consistent but also highlights that when Leeds concede, the floodgates can really burst open. With those 46 goals spread across 19 matches, it means Meslier is conceding on average 2.5 goals per game when he doesn't get a clean sheet – this drops to 1.7 for Lafont.

 

On top of that, Meslier's seven errors leading to shots is more than any other player in the Premier League this term, perhaps showing he's still in the inexperienced, nervous phase that Lafont has seemingly left behind.

Meslier's superior save percentage of 71.1 compared to 65.7 speaks to the former Lorient youngster's shot-stopping abilities, though for the time being Lafont's greater consistency looks set to keep him first-choice.

Sven Botman, Netherlands – Central Defender

A promising loan spell with Heerenveen last season alerted Lille to the talents of Ajax-owned Botman and he has been a real hit for Les Dogues since a reported €8m move, helping them to mount a serious Ligue 1 title challenge.

Lille's 19 goals conceded is the fewest in France's top tier and, while not necessarily entirely down to Botman, there's no doubt he's made his presence known as a reliable powerhouse at the back.

 

Of the 856 players across Europe's top five leagues to have engaged in at least 150 duels, Botman's 71.4 per cent success rate is the best, and that competitiveness is also reflected in his aerial prowess.

Only four of the 157 players in the continent's elite divisions to have been involved in 100+ aerial duels have a better success rate than the Dutch youngster (72.5 per cent).

While his impressive physical attributes might lead to certain assumptions about his style of play, Botman is more than a brutish centre-back, as proven by the fact his 452 ball carries – defined as a player moving five metres or more with the ball – is the fourth highest among Ligue 1 central defenders.

 

Of course, there is likely to be a glaring absence from the senior Dutch side at Euro 2020. with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp not expecting Virgil van Dijk to be ready for the tournament.

That means there is potentially a spot up for grabs in the centre of the Netherlands defence, and Botman's combination of power and elegance suggests he could be a good fit as Van Dijk's deputy.

Granted, the young defender – who hasn't been capped at senior level yet – still has a way to go to match up to the Reds star, but in the context of young defenders of a similar ilk, Botman certainly compares well and his strengths are similar to those of Van Dijk.

His aerial stats prove he's an excellent physical specimen, and his effectiveness in duels reflects the fact he's a difficult defender to beat. A strong showing here might just help convince Frank de Boer that Botman's ready to step up later this year.

Jules Kounde, France – Central Defender

Les Bleus are blessed with an embarrassment of riches in most areas, but the fact Kounde is turning out for the Under-21s in this tournament instead of the senior side exemplifies their depth in quality at the heart of the defence.

In his second full season with Sevilla, Kounde has kicked on following a hugely encouraging second half to 2019-20, so much so that he's arguably the first name on the team sheet for Julen Lopetegui.

 

His forward-thinking nature has made him key to the coach's 'Lavolpiana build-up' defensive structure, a setup attributed to Argentinian coach Ricardo La Volpe that essentially demands centre-backs carry the ball forward from a three-man backline.

Only two central defenders in La Liga have bettered Kounde's rate of 19.2 carries per 90, while there are just three who have covered more distance carrying the ball further up field than the Frenchman this term (2,774 metres).

This positivity is generally offset by Fernando dropping in to form a faux back three, while Kounde's movement up the right can often create overloads as he teams up with Jesus Navas, Sevilla's biggest chance creator (44).

 

But evidence of his progressive mentality doesn't stop there. While possessional stats can often be skewed for centre-backs, given the sheer number of simple short balls played between defensive colleagues, Kounde is clearly looking ahead, and often.

No defender has been successful with more forward passes in open play than Kounde this season in LaLiga (507), with the 22-year-old completing an impressive 79 per cent of these. Therefore, perhaps it's not surprising to learn no Sevilla player has been involved in more shot-ending build-up sequences than he has (53), demonstrating his value to their forays forward, despite not attempting the shots or making the final pass in that move.

Kounde is a prime example of how centre-backs can be just as satisfying to see in possession as your classic playmakers – in fact, that is essentially what he is developing into, a defensive playmaker of the ilk who would have looked at home in the great Barcelona teams of the past 14 years.

Pedro Goncalves, Portugal – Attacking Midfielder

It's fair to say that, when Sporting CP set out to replace Bruno Fernandes, never in their wildest dreams would they have expected what they got. Pedro Goncalves had been a key figure for Famalicao in 2019-20, but to say he's surpassed expectations in Lisbon would be an understatement.

Goncalves operates in similar spaces to Fernandes, albeit drifting towards the right a little more, and his hot streak in front of goal has helped put Sporting on course for a first league title since 2001-02.

 

In 22 Primeira Liga matches, the attacking midfielder has scored 15 goals – none of which were penalties. The 22-year-old's xG total is just 6.9, meaning his over-performance of 8.1 is the biggest across Europe's top six leagues, aside from the phenomenal Robert Lewandowski (9.3).

Of course, the chances of him being able to sustain such a run in the long-term are low, but it still highlights what a danger the former Wolves youngster poses in his current form.

 

Comparisons with Fernandes have been rife, for obvious reasons, but they show many different traits to their game.

In Fernandes' final 50 league games for Sporting, he averaged 3.4 shots per 90 minutes and 2.3 of those non-penalty shots came from outside the box – Goncalves attempts 2.6 on average each game, with only 1.1 coming from beyond the penalty area.

As such, the average quality of Fernandes' shots in his final 50 games for Sporting weren't outstanding, with his xG per non-penalty shot equating to 0.07. Goncalves' is almost double that at 0.13, suggesting he picks his moments more selectively while also taking fewer attempts.

Nevertheless, despite Fernandes' penchant for a long-range effort, he only scored four times from outside the box in his final 50 league matches for Sporting – Goncalves already has three this term from 28 fewer games.

 

The biggest difference between the pair is assists. Fernandes' 20 in his final 50 outings for Sporting dwarfs Goncalves' three in 2020-21, but interestingly their expected assists per 90 minutes isn't hugely dissimilar. Fernandes is ahead 0.29 to 0.20 in this area, but a potential explanation for this potentially lies in the respective teams they've played in.

 

The next highest-scorer for Sporting this season after Goncalves himself is Nuno Santos with six – they don't have a prolific centre-forward, whereas Fernandes was supplying Bas Dost, who netted 76 times in 84 league games for the club between 2016 and 2019.

As we all know now, Fernandes was on the trajectory of an elite-level player. He's proven this at Manchester United, though there were certainly those who were sceptical about him prior to his move.

It'll be a tough ask, but why can't Goncalves continue to defy expectations?

Fedor Chalov, Russia - Forward

Russian striker Fedor Chalov is undoubtedly one of the most experienced players involved at the tournament, with the 22-year-old having already played 115 Russian Premier League matches in addition to his 11 UEFA Champions League appearances.

Chalov burst on to the scene in Russia with CSKA Moscow at 18 years old back in November 2016 and scored in just his fifth top-flight appearance for the club versus Ural a month later.

After scoring six goals in each of his opening two league seasons at CSKA, 2018-19 was when he really began to make a name for himself in Russia - winning the league's top scorer award with 15 goals, while also posting his best-ever season tally for assists (7).

But Chalov's career hasn't kicked on as expected since then, scoring just 13 goals in 50 top-flight appearances over the past two seasons, but his performances have been stirring enough to attract the attentions of multiple Premier League clubs during the January transfer window.

 

Despite this, Chalov's numbers domestically at top-tier level are mightily impressive for a player so early in his career. Despite only being 22, Chalov's tally of 60 goal involvements since his Russian Premier League debut are the third most by a player in the competition.

Russia are certainly one of the underdogs for the 2021 Under-21 European Championship and are unlikely to top their group, having been drawn alongside favourites France. However, if Chalov can find form in the first stage of the tournament then he could be the linchpin to Russian hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages in May.

The international break might bring respite from the packed club calendar, but with Qatar 2022 now just 20 months away, top players have little chance for rest.

Still, the start of the European World Cup qualifiers brings an opportunity for the new names on the international scene to impress, particularly with more established stars unlikely to be involved in every minute of matches over these two weeks.

Several of the continent's top teams have offered first-time call-ups to those enjoying fine form and, while some were anticipated, others have left even the players themselves surprised.

We have picked through a selection of the new faces to look out for, with a sprinkling of Opta data to highlight why they deserve a chance to impress for their country.

 

Belgium: Orel Mangala and Albert Sambi Lokonga

Stuttgart's Orel Mangala has been linked with Arsenal and RB Leipzig due to his performances for Stuttgart this season. Only three midfielders have regained possession more often in the Bundesliga than the 23-year-old (166).

Also hoping to make his senior Belgium debut at the heart of midfield is Albert Sambi Lokonga, who assumed the captain's armband at Anderlecht less than a month after turning 21.

Lokonga, who could get a chance in place of the injured Axel Witsel, has regained possession 35 more times than any team-mate this season (157) and is also fourth for chances created (22).

Croatia: Kristijan Lovric

With Ante Rebic and Bruno Petkovic injured, the coming matches could offer a real chance to impress for Kristijan Lovric.

The HNK Gorica star is second in the top scorer standings in Croatia's top flight, with 15 goals in 24 appearances. With four assists also to his name, Lovric is behind only Tottenham's Europa League slayer Mislav Orsic and Ramon Mierez (both on 20) for direct goal involvements this season.

It's a seriously impressive return for the 25-year-old, particularly as he plays predominantly wide on the left of the Gorica attack.

England: Ollie Watkins

West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone may get the chance to win a first senior England cap, but a man almost certain to be given a chance in attack is Ollie Watkins.

The Aston Villa forward became the 10th Premier League player to score a hat-trick against Liverpool, and the first in a decade, in October's extraordinary 7-2 win over the reigning champions.

He has 10 in the top flight this term, while only captain Jack Grealish (17) has had more direct goal involvements than Watkins (15) in all competitions for Villa this season. Not bad for a man who was playing in England's sixth tier just six years ago.

 

Germany: Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala

Rising Bayern Munich star Jamal Musiala was expected to be named in Joachim Low's squad after he pledged his international future to Germany rather than England.

The 18-year-old, who only signed his first professional contract this month, is Bayern's youngest ever Champions League goalscorer and has already played 18 times in the Bundesliga this season.

Bayer Leverkusen's Florian Wirtz has also earned the right to shine on the senior stage. He is one of just two players under the age of 20 to be directly involved in at least eight goals across the top-five European leagues this season.

Italy: Rafael Toloi and Matteo Ricci

Brazilian-born Rafael Toloi has made it to the age of 30 without a senior international appearance, but his performances for Gian Piero Gasperini's outstanding Atalanta side made him hard to overlook.

Toloi averages seven possession regains per match for Atalanta this season and is comfortable when using the ball, completing 493 passes in the opposition half, the most of any Atalanta defender barring Berat Djimsiti.

Spezia midfielder Matteo Ricci, meanwhile, boasts 19 chances created in Serie A this season as well as 151 times winning back the ball, by far the highest tally for his team.

Netherlands: Jeremiah St Juste

Jeremiah St Juste has impressed at the back for Mainz this season, despite their involvement in a tense battle to avoid the drop.

There are only five Bundesliga defenders to win more tackles and duels combined than the 24-year-old this season (he has managed 165).

Previously a full-back with Feyenoord, St Juste brings a vital commodity to modern central defending: speed. Last season, he clocked a sprint of 22.1 miles per hour, bettered only at the time by Bayern winger Kingsley Coman.

Poland: Kacper Kozlowski

A relative unknown outside Poland, even Kacper Kozlowski himself was shocked to be called up to Paulo Sousa's squad this month.

Clearly, though, he has caught the eye for some all-action displays in the top flight for Pogon Szczecin. The 17-year-old averages 8.3 duels won and 17 passes ending in the final third per 90 minutes, each the most of any teenage midfielder in the competition.

Kozlowski, who is also renowned for a fierce long-range shot, has been linked with some of the world's biggest clubs since making his senior debut at just 15, with Manchester United said to be among them.

 

Portugal: Joao Palhinha and Nuno Mendes

Linked with Manchester City (among others), Sporting CP full-back Nuno Mendes has been described as the standout young talent in Portugal's top flight.

Only Wilson Manafa (49) has completed more dribbles among defenders this season than Mendes (29), who has played in all but four of the unbeaten leaders' league matches.

The 18-year-old is joined in the Portugal squad by team-mate Joao Palhinha, a robust midfielder who has won 208 duels in the Primeira Liga in 2020-21 – no player in his position has won more.

Spain: Bryan Gil and Pedri

Pedri has been a revelation for Barcelona in his first season at Camp Nou, establishing himself as a key part of Ronald Koeman's midfield despite only turning 18 last November.

He has played 42 times already in 2020-21, the most of anyone at the club, and became the youngest player to record 100 touches in a single LaLiga game for at least 15 years against Osasuna this month.

Bryan Gil, meanwhile, has been thriving on loan at Eibar from Sevilla and in January became the second player born this century to score twice in the same LaLiga match, following in the footsteps of Ansu Fati.

 

Kevin De Bruyne's scintillating long-range strike against Borussia Monchengladbach last week was Manchester City's 100th goal of the season and maintained Pep Guardiola's record of his sides reaching a century in each of his 12 seasons in top-flight coaching.

At Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now at Manchester City, Guardiola the tactician is loath to go on the defensive.

However, whenever he feels the quality or worth of one of his players might have been called into question during a news conference, that position is second nature.

"He's an incredibly important player for us," the Catalan snapped back unequivocally when Raheem Sterling's declining output in front of goal was raised this year, two days after he put a penalty against Brighton and Hove Albion into orbit to prolong a lean spell of three goals in 18 games.

"Everything we have done in the past, without him would not have been possible."

Quite simply, that is a whole lot of everything.

Under Guardiola, City have won six major honours. They became the first team to reach the 100-points landmark when lifting the Premier League in 2017-18 and retained the title as part of an unprecedented domestic treble the following season.

A 14-point lead at the top of the table and next month's dates in the EFL Cup final and FA Cup semi-finals mean a clean sweep in England is once again a possibility as Borussia Dortmund await in the last eight of the Champions League.

One of the points of difference this time around is Guardiola's apparently assertion the past couple of weeks that more of the success he craves might be possible with Sterling confined to the margins.

After being defended by his manager in January, Sterling embarked upon a run of six goals in nine games across all competitions, including one in a deeply cathartic 4-1 win over former club Liverpool at Anfield and concluding with an early winner at Arsenal in February.

He has not added to a 13-goal haul in 2020-21 since and after, wasting two glorious late chances in the 2-0 derby defeat to Manchester United, Sterling was an unused substitute for the subsequent 5-2 win over Southampton.

That decision apparently prompted a row denied by both men – "nothing happened" said Guardiola, "FALSE" tweeted Sterling – after the England international was omitted from the travelling squad for a 3-0 win at Fulham.

It means, as Wednesday marks the ninth anniversary of the 26-year-old's top-flight debut, that one of the most impressive Premier League careers of the past decade has encountered some unusual on-field turbulence.

 

Chasing Shearer and Rooney

Aside from a tempestuous end to his final season at Liverpool as Sterling sought to leave and a patchy start at City as Manuel Pellegrini's tenure spluttered to an end, the winger's trajectory has aimed relentlessly upwards since Kenny Dalglish introduced him as a substitute against Wigan Athletic on March 24, 2012, aged 17 years and 107 days.

He has 144 direct goal involvements in 284 Premier League games, with 95 goals and 49 assists. Ranking all players in Premier League history before their 27th birthdays, this puts Sterling eighth – one place above David Beckham (128 goal involvements).

Wayne Rooney leads the way (215) from Alan Shearer (172), Harry Kane (163), Thierry Henry, Robbie Fowler (both 162), Michael Owen (156) and Romelu Lukaku (148), meaning a few of that esteemed group are within reach for Sterling before he turns 27 on December 8.

Overall, Shearer remains king, his all-time record haul of 260 Premier League goals among 325 goal involvements, ahead of Rooney on 311 (208 goals, 103 assists).

By all accounts, Sterling should be entering his peak years and is fractionally ahead of Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane (92 and 91 respectively) in the race to become the 30th member of the Premier League's 100 goals club.

Along with having the chance to join Rooney and Frank Lampard as the third dual goals and assists centurion in league history, Sterling's overall output means he will get close to Shearer and Rooney's levels if he can maintain it.

All of which makes Sterling's absence from a certain conversation fairly curious.

 

From #TheHatedOne to Premier League great?

In recent years, Manchester City bade fond farewells to the first batch of superstars that propelled the club's transformation from also-rans to trophy collectors.

When they departed, Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany and David Silva were all acclaimed as being among the very best in their positions to grace the division. Similar talk will accompany Sergio Aguero if, as looks increasingly likely, he leaves the Etihad Stadium when his contract expires in June.

De Bruyne is very much in the midst of his prime years, having joined City in the same 2015 close-season as Sterling, and is already spoken of in such terms.

But the notion of Raheem Sterling: Premier League great? Despite the numbers outlined above, it is a consideration seldom made.

This can be partly attributed to the vitriolic reaction that followed his Liverpool exit, which embedded poisonous and unfair perceptions of an ambitious young footballer.

"It just winds me up and angers me to the pit of my stomach," said Kop favourite Jamie Carragher of Sterling's desire to leave Anfield. John Aldridge declared a then 20-year-old "too young to think for himself", despite middle age seemingly not opening up such a capacity for the former striker.

Carragher, Aldridge and numerous other ex-Reds within the pundit class were speaking passionately in defence of the club they loved, but unfortunately with no regard for the abuse – both insidious and explicit – they helped to normalise.

Sterling was infamously dubbed "footie Idiot Raheem" in a Sun article – still available online, as it happens – following England's Euro 2016 exit against Iceland, where the City player won a penalty in a 2-1 defeat.

Earlier in the tournament, he labelled himself "#TheHatedOne" on social media. The vibrant performer from his Liverpool days began to return on the field under Guardiola, but the attitude from the terraces made it feel like Sterling had a point.

At grounds such as Turf Moor, the Hawthorns and the King Power Stadium, he was booed, despite no obvious rivalry existing between City and their opponents. For many there was grimly familiar discomfort and unease: surely it's not about that, is it?

Then, at Stamford Bridge in December 2018, Sterling was targeted by a group of home supporters, their faces contorted in anger. The incident led Chelsea to banning a fan for life for using "racially abusive language".

The day after the match, Sterling addressed the unequal media coverage given to black and white footballers in a social media post, and what this means to those on the receiving end. He remains a powerful voice in the fight against racism in football and society as a whole.

Sterling's status as a role model and an inspiration played a part alongside his phenomenal performances for treble-winning City as he was named 2018-19 FWA Footballer of the Year.

 

The surrounding and frequently vile noise accompanying his career in England is not something shared by Sterling's City counterparts. The stand he took after the Chelsea match will remain a defining time in his career and, in terms of performance analysis, it might be seen as the moment where all other noise faded into the background and a rare talent was given his due. 

There is, however, another elephant in the room when it comes to assessing Sterling's elite credentials. Or, more accurately, an elephant in the six-yard box.

Floored by missed sitters

The 2019-20 season was the most prolific of Sterling's career as he scored 31 times overall and hit 20 in the Premier League.

Nevertheless, it concluded with him somehow blazing over from four yards with City 2-1 down to Lyon in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The Ligue 1 club soon led 3-1 and City were out – a nadir of the Guardiola era.

For a player who scores so frequently, Sterling's finishing remains maddeningly unreliable at times.

During City's 100-point season, Guardiola hauled him off after an implausible miss at Burnley and a couple of botched clear openings in that April Manchester derby, where City led 2-0 and lost 3-2, were a huge factor in the ultimate bragging rights of claiming a league title with victory over their bitter rivals going begging.

Then, despite contributing tirelessly to the collective effort, Sterling failed to score as England reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup. It is impossible to imagine Rooney or Shearer doing likewise in similar circumstances, making that campaign an unhelpful anomaly in any pretentions to greatness.

So, is Sterling's finishing overall as bad as those forgettable moments suggest?

Since his debut, he is the fifth-highest scoring Premier League player on 95, behind Aguero (164), Harry Kane (159), Jamie Vardy (115) and Lukaku (113).

A shot conversion rate of 15.9 per cent tracks below that quartet, with Vardy the most efficient at 22.2 and Lukaku closest to Sterling on 16.7 per cent.

Of the 31 players to have scored 50 or more Premier League goals during that time, Sterling ranks around the middle of the pack, 15th overall in terms of shot conversion – Christian Benteke's tragicomic figure of 8.7 per cent conversion bring up the rear.

In terms of those defined by Opta as 'big chances', Sterling falls into the bottom third of the group in 22nd, having netted 66 and missed 83 over the course of his top-flight career for 44.3 percent.

This is perhaps what you'd expect from a man with a reputation for missing his share of high-profile sitters, but improvements over recent seasons show why he is still able to be on the trajectory of Shearer and Rooney for goal involvements.

The bulk of Sterling's Premier League goals came over the most recent three completed campaigns, with 18 in the 100-point season backed up by 17 to retain the title and 20 last time around – comfortably his three most prolific goalscoring seasons.

Each time, his shot conversion was above 20 per cent, with a high of 22 in 2018-19. The only other time he finished so efficiently was when scoring nine times from 45 attempts during Liverpool's surprise 2013-14 title tilt.

There has been a drop off this time around, with nine goals from 53 attempts amounting to a 17 per cent conversion rate, while he has missed two thirds of the big chances on offer (6/18).

On that metric, he tracked as high as 60 per cent in 2018-19, having registered 53.8 the season before – both success rates to rival any elite forward. Despite the overall strong returns of 2019-20, his big chance conversion rate dipped to 42.4 per cent.

 

The art of the tap-in merchant

This is another criticism some detractors like to level at Sterling: that he is a "tap-in merchant", who simply gorges on Guardiola's feast of football to pad his stats from close range.

But, as Gary Lineker is often keen to point out with a heavy helping of self-deprecation, if it were that easy then everyone would be doing it.

If the misses outlined above suggest a shortfall in Sterling's technique as a finisher, then his capacity to sniff out chances through intelligent and clinical movements stand as one of his main assets.

Throughout his City career, his shots-per-game average has ranged from between 2.3 to 3.3 when split by season. However, his expected goals (xG) figure per 90 minutes increased significantly in those three most prolific campaigns.

In 2017-18, his xG/90 was 0.56, set against 0.21 for Leroy Sane, City's other first-choice winger that year. Sane and Sterling had near-identical xG/90 scores of 0.28 and 0.27 during the previous season, Guardiola's first at the helm.

Despite averaging slightly more shots per game than Sterling in 2019-20 (3.4 to 3.3), Riyad Mahrez's xG/90 was 0.36 compared to his team-mate's 0.64.

This shows Sterling getting himself into notably better scoring areas, with a greater probability of finding the net, than team-mates playing in the same position. Even considering the fact Mahrez appears to have usurped Sterling in Guardiola's pecking order for now, his xG/90 is still half that of the England man in 2020-21 (0.21 vs 0.42).

If this suggests a notable tenacity and relentlessness around the opposition penalty area, Sterling's dribbling ability and productivity when carrying possession underlines the point.

Guardiola values forwards who can bring an unpredictable element to the possession-dominating foundations of his sides and Sterling certainly excels here, showing himself to be one of the most adept players in the division when it comes to running with the ball and making something happen.

Since joining City in 2015-16, he is ranked fifth (251) in the Premier League for shot involvements after a carry – meaning Sterling has either had a shot himself or set up a team-mate to do so.

As with his output in front of goal, Sterling's figures for carries and progressive carries are down this term, but a return to those levels seems comfortably within reach for a player of his age and ability.

At the risk of just loudly shouting, "KICK IT AT THE GOAL, RAHEEM!", he could also shoot more. An uneven return to the starting XI in Saturday's FA Cup win at Everton yielded four attempts on goal, a couple of them fairly wild.

That was up on his season average of 2.3 attempts per 90 minutes. And, if awful misses from close quarters is one of Sterling's main regrettable habits, taking too many touches and checking inside to be crowded out by defenders is another.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi average above five attempts per match. Obviously, there is a lot more to their majestic careers than just shooting a lot, but their continually handsome hauls show the value of a star forward backing themselves.

It feels like a relatively minor tweak that could take Sterling's game to the next level, when considering all his other demonstrable qualities.

A provocative newspaper interview with Marca last season, where he posed with a Real Madrid shirt, showed a man who thinks he belongs on the A-list and the returns of a nine-year Premier League career back that up. Being only the third player to score 100 goals under Guardiola after Messi and Aguero isn't bad, either.

With everything again possible for City on the other side of the international break, Sterling has the perfect platform to put a tricky couple of weeks behind him and step it up once more.

The British and Irish Lions' tour of South Africa is set to go ahead as planned later this year after proposals to stage matches elsewhere were rejected.

Due to continued complications surrounding the coronavirus crisis, questions were raised over whether the Lions would be able to travel to South Africa for the eight-match trip.

But rather than host matches in the UK and Ireland, or take up Australia's offer to play games Down Under, it has been decided to press ahead with the original itinerary

The Lions and SA Rugby released a joint statement on Tuesday to confirm an agreement is in place over the staging of the tour, which begins on July 3 and continues into early August.

"After reviewing information relating to the various contingency scenarios being considered, I can confirm that the board's intended position is for the Tour to go ahead as scheduled in South Africa in 2021," said Lions chairman Jason Leonard.

"We acknowledge that there is a significant amount of work still to be undertaken to deliver a robust Covid-19 countermeasure plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted Tour. SA Rugby will have our full support to help implement this plan."

However, the original plan for the Lions to play five warm-up matches against provincial teams, an invitational side and second-string South Africa A before the three-Test series with the Springboks could still change.

"We appreciate the Lions' faith and share their desire to see a safe and successful tour,” said SA Rugby president Mark Alexander in the same statement. 

"We have been in regular contact with our government to make that a reality against the backdrop of the pandemic and its predicted progression over the coming months.

"There are serious financial implications for SA Rugby, should the event take place without any supporters in attendance, and we cannot ignore that in our considerations. 

"But we are determined that the eventual outcome will deliver the best occasion and experience for players, supporters and our commercial partners."

Speaking earlier on Tuesday, RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney acknowledged the preferred contingency plan of staging the tour in the UK had become increasingly unviable.

"It was always the preferred option to go to South Africa," he said. "We had to develop a whole range of different scenarios given the potential outcomes and one of those was a UK series.

"It's quite controversial as it's not the spirit of the Lions, but as fall-back option, we thought it was a strong one. If they can't host it, the agreement's off and we've probably run out of time to host it in the UK, so you play in 2025."

Lions coach Warren Gatland is due to announce a squad for the tour at the start of May, with the first warm-up match to be played on home soil on Murrayfield against Japan on June 26.

Virat Kohli hailed "one of our sweetest victories" after India fought hard to overcome England by 66 runs in the opening ODI in Pune.

Man-of-the-match Shikhar Dhawan laid a solid foundation for India with an assured 98, missing out on three figures when he miscued a pull off Ben Stokes to Eoin Morgan at midwicket.

Kohli made a similarly fluent half-century but the hosts had stumbled to 202-5 when debutant Krunal Pandya joined KL Rahul in the 41st over.

Krunal (58 not out) laid waste to an otherwise impressive England bowling performance, his 26-ball fifty the fastest ever in a maiden ODI, while wicketkeeper Rahul similarly impressed with an unbeaten 62 as India posted 317-5.

England threatened to make short work of that total as Jonny Bairstow (94) and Jason Roy (46) motored to 135 without loss inside 15 overs, before India's seamers turned the contest on its head.

Prasidh Krishna, also on debut, was the pick with 4-54, while Shardul Thakur's 3-37 accounted for the dangerous trio of Bairstow, Morgan (22) and Jos Buttler (2), and the excellent Bhuvneshwar Kumar took 2-30.

"That's one of our sweetest victories in the recent past. We haven't won many good games in ODIs," India skipper Kohli said at the post-match presentation.

"It was a great comeback from all our bowlers after going for few runs early on. Prasidh was amazing, Krunal as well. Shardul, Bhuvi were amazing. I am a really proud man right now.

"The team showed great character and intensity. As I've mentioned in the past as well, we promote players who have intent and back their skills.

"A special mention to Shikhar's innings as well and KL was back among the runs. We want to back people who will do a selfless job.

"It's a healthy competition between everyone for every slot. We have two or three players available for every slot."

Perhaps not to quite the same extent, but world champions England have their own enviable depth of talent.

Nevertheless, the steadying hand of Joe Root at number three, where Stokes stepped up to be dismissed for one, and Jofra Archer's death bowling were certainly missed as both players undertake a period of rest.

As in the recent 3-2 reverse in the T20I series, captain Morgan was left to rue middle-order failings, with the plummet form 135-0 to 176-5 key in England's challenge fading to 251 all out with 47 deliveries unused.

Nevertheless, he stood by the aggressive approach that has brought his side so much recent success.

"I thought the bowlers were outstanding and there was a bit more on offer for their seamers," he said.

"The two openers were outstanding, but we failed to build on from that. We need to execute better than we did. India did really well and deserved to win.

"Being able to take the attack to the opposition is something that we pride ourselves on. We want to continue to push the envelope in that regard. It's better for us to lose like this than losing by 20 runs.

"The game is always moving forward, technology and fitness are moving forward, so we need to push hard as we can. It's important for us to dictate the way we play."

England will conduct a "brutally honest" internal review of their Six Nations performance but will not rush the decision on the future of Eddie Jones.

The 2019 World Cup finalists finished fifth in this year's Six Nations tournament, losing all three games against Scotland, Wales and Ireland for the first time since 1976.

A spirited victory over France had restored some credibility to the side after a shock 11-6 home defeat to Scotland and a resounding 40-24 loss in Cardiff, but their campaign concluded last weekend with a 32-18 reverse in Dublin.

England conceded 121 points in their five games, more than in any previous Five or Six Nations championship, leaving Jones' position as head coach under serious scrutiny.

Bill Sweeney, CEO of the Rugby Football Union (RFU), accepted there was huge disappointment around their performance and that tough questions must be asked as they attempt to build a squad capable of winning the World Cup in two years' time.

However, he insisted on Tuesday that any possible changes to the team will be given great consideration.

Asked to summarise England's Six Nations campaign, Sweeney replied: "How long have you got?

"It's a tough question. We're all incredibly disappointed. England don't go into a Six Nations to come fifth, which is why we'll have a thorough debrief.

"We had a debrief scheduled for May and we'll probably bring it forward to April. It needs to be a thorough, brutally honest analysis of what went wrong and why.

"Since Japan, our focus is on going and winning a World Cup in France.

"You'd expect us to do an absolute and full debrief. You have to recognise and respect Eddie's achievements since he's been here: three Six Nations championships, a grand slam, a World Cup final - that's a tremendous performance.

"But he wants to understand this as much as anybody and we want to let him talk to us about what happened in the Six Nations and are we on track to where we want to get to in 2023.

"It's really important at this stage to apply good old English calm. We have to react, we won't do nothing, but it's important not to overreact. We won't leave any stone unturned in trying to understand it.

"It's a young squad, it was the youngest ever team in a World Cup final, and yet we're in a period of transition. It's unusual. When you're in transition, you want to make sure you're heading in the right direction.

"I don't think I can honestly answer [if he will be sacked]. He's as disappointed as we are, and we'll do this debriefing session together."

A magnificent and emotional ODI debut from all-rounder Krunal Pandya helped to give India an authoritative 66-run win in the series opener against England.

The tourists twice looked to have taken control of the contest – initially when India squandered the platform laid by Shikhar Dhawan (98) and stumbled to 202-5, before Jonny Bairstow (94) and Jason Roy (46) tore after the eventual target of 317-5 with a 135-run opening stand inside 15 overs.

But Krunal clattered an unbeaten 58 form 31 deliveries, featuring seven fours and two sixes, as he and KL Rahul climbed into some sub-par death bowling from England.

In a curtailed mid-innings interview following his knock, Krunal broke down in tears as he dedicated his format debut to his father, who passed away in January.

Having seen his left-arm spin disappear under Roy and Bairstow's early assault, Krunal returned to claim the important wicket of Sam Curran (12) as England subsided meekly – seamers Prasidh Krishna (4-54), Bhuveneshwar Kumar (2-30) and Shardul Thakur (3-37) doing the bulk of the damage to dismiss Eoin Morgan's side for 251 in 42.1 overs.

 

Pune will be the venue as England round out their tour to India with a three-match one-day series, starting on Tuesday. 

While the Test leg of the trip was won convincingly by the hosts, the two nations played out a high-quality Twenty20 battle that saw India rally from 2-1 down to prevail 3-2 in a decider.

Virat Kohli opened the innings in Saturday's fifth and final T20 fixture, but the India captain has confirmed he will be moving back down the order now the focus switches over quickly to the 50-over format.

"As far as the opening combination is concerned, Shikhar (Dhawan) and Rohit (Sharma) will definitely start. They have been amazing for us in the past few years," Kohli said ahead of the series. 

England used only 12 players during the T20 games, a decision taken with the focus on gaining experience in Indian conditions ahead of the World Cup in the same country later this year. 

However, white-ball skipper Eoin Morgan revealed the tourists will use the one-day fixtures to take a look at those players who have not featured too much on the trip so far. 

"Throughout the one-day series, we will see guys given opportunities, more so than we did in the T20 series," Morgan told the media. 

"It's going to be exciting, playing three games at the same ground against a very, very strong India side is a huge opportunity for everybody to go out there and get back into the frame of mind and the pace of 50-over cricket, but also for guys who haven't had an opportunity to really put their case forward. 

"Given there is a (T20) World Cup around the corner, playing any international cricket at all is a huge opportunity for guys who have been here, on the fringes, and not made selection so far."

Jofra Archer will not be involved after returning home for treatment on a persistent elbow injury, while Joe Root and Chris Woakes – two key players in the side that secured World Cup glory on home soil in 2019 – are not involved, England choosing to rest and rotate amid a hectic schedule while staying in bio-secure bubbles. 

Moeen Ali, Sam Billings and Liam Livingstone provide options to come into a batting order that will see Root missing from his usual position at number three. As for the bowling, leg-spinner Matt Parkinson will hope for a chance to impress, while Reece Topley could be the one to benefit the most from Archer's absence.

Jasprit Bumrah is a notable absentee from an India squad that does include Suryakumar Yadav - an exciting batsman yet to make his ODI debut - and left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav.  


Kohli close to matching Tendulkar

Having finished as leading run-scorer in the T20 series, Kohli is one away from equalling the record for most centuries for India in one-day cricket, the great Sachin Tendulkar sitting top of the pile with 20. The India captain is also one three-figure score shy of posting the joint-most hundreds for India in 50-games against England, as he stands on the brink of matching Yuvraj Singh's tally of four.

England aim to keep streak alive

England have put together a run of three successive victories versus India in the one-day format; another triumph in the opener on Tuesday would see them equal their longest winning streak against their opponents in the format (four in a row was achieved in games between 1974 and 1981).

Key series facts

- India are set to face off against England for the first time in an ODI since losing a Cricket World Cup group game by a margin of 31 runs against the eventual champions, back in June 2019.

- The hosts have been involved in only one completed ODI against England at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune, beating them by three wickets there in January 2017.

- Both sides have only managed to win 50 per cent of their completed one-day games since the end of the Cricket World Cup. India have recorded seven victories, while their opponents have four wins across the same time period.

- Virat Kohli has registered 30 ODI knocks versus England, with his highest score against them in the format coming in Pune, posting 122 off 105 balls there in January 2017.

- Bhuvneshwar Kumar managed to get Jos Buttler out on three occasions during the T20 series, the most instances of any bowler dismissing a batsman across those five fixtures (conceding just 26 runs).

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