The press box at Edgbaston is perched on the top floor of an abnormally tall pavilion building. It gives you spectacular bird’s eye view of the surroundings, if not quite the worm’s eye view you need to analyse the cricket. (Full Coverage: India tour of England)
From here, then, you could see traffic inching ahead at the pace of a timeless Test as spectators turned up in great numbers on Sunday afternoon to catch the one-off Twenty20 between England and India. You could feel that on clogged veins heading to the heart of cricket in
Birmingham, the only thing making any progress was blood pressure. You could also witness two massively built blokes in India jerseys storming out of their SUV, walking up menacingly to another vehicle that had dared to jump ahead and cut in — the two sets of fans going to cheer for the same team had a showdown in the middle of the road. From this distance, you could also see people ditching their practically stationary buses a kilometre or so before the stadium to rush on foot. And you could figure out that at the venue there was a capacity crowd of 25000 and many more waiting outside hoping to lay their hands on a spare ticket.
From this vantage point, therefore, you could correctly conclude that arguably the most inconsequential match of India’s 77-day-long stay in England had generated the biggest excitement. That’s right: not the Test series, or even the ODIs, but this lone, three-and-a-half hour affair. It also mattered most to three men on the ground: one in India’s blue uniform and two in England’s red-and-black colours.
Leg-spinner Karn Sharma made his international debut as did England batsman Jason Roy. Ravi Bopara, meanwhile, was back in the England team after being dropped from the ODI squad. Roy didn’t quite seize his chance while Bopara impressed in the nine balls that he faced, making an unbeaten 21. India’s Sharma, too, made a notable contribution in his four tight overs, giving away 28 runs and picking up the wicket of Joe Root.
As shadows lengthened at Edgbaston, two more players from either side left their impression on the match: the out-of-form duo of Eoin Morgan and Virat Kohli struck brilliant half centuries, top scoring for their respective sides.
Captain Morgan’s 31-ball 71, laced with seven sixes, was the knock of the balmy afternoon as England piled up 180 for seven in their quota of 20 overs after Alex Hales (40 off 25 balls) provided the early impetus.
India’s chase was hit by the early dismissal of Ajinkya Rahane, but Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli added 79 runs in 53 balls to put the side on course. Maybe the fact that he didn’t have to hold back had finally unlocked Kohli. The pitch was true, the ball was coming on nicely and it all came together for the Delhi lad. He began with a flick to midwicket off Harry Gurney in the third over before creaming three consecutive boundaries of Chris Woakes in the next. With a couple soon after, Kohli brought up his first competitive half century in 11 weeks. Eventually, he was out caught after a 40-ball 66, top-edging a hook off Steve Finn in the 15th over, but India were well placed at 131/3, needing a simple 50 runs from 34 balls. With two IPL heroes in the middle — Suresh Raina batting beautifully and Dhoni having just walked in — it was India’s game to lose.
And incredibly they lost it.
After the quick dismissals of Raina and Ravindra Jadeja, the equation came down to 17 off last over. In a recent interview with Mark Nicolas for All Out Cricket, Dhoni said he wants to bring it to a level playing field with the bowler, and then see who handles the pressure better.
Master finisher fails
This time, the pressure was more on Dhoni than Woakes, but the Indian captain still smoked a six over midwicket to bring it down to 11 off five. A scramble for a couple, a refused single and a four over long off followed. Five off two. It became five off one in an extraordinary fashion, with Dhoni yet again declining a single and the strike to Ambati Rayudu, India’s T20 debutant. The equation had changed. Even Dhoni, the master finisher, couldn’t pull it off.
But it was a last-ball thriller, the most evenly matched match of a this-way-or-that lopsided summer. The bumper crowd didn’t get the result they wanted. But they got their money’s worth.