For four years England have been building up to this. How to win an ODI championship. They did everything they could: made a stubborn aggressive Irishman as captain, overhauled all the pitches to make them batting friendly, agreed to release their players to go to IPL, and learned the ODI game.
Several decades after they first invented the one-day game, they tried to imbibe the mechanics. But as the moment arrived, they froze. Pakistan and Sri Lanka socked them before Australia punched them down—and all hell broke loose in heaven. It seemed India would shove them to the brink, and leave them hanging on the Pakistan ledge, but England hung on, clawed their way back, and won. Do google and check the Monday morning English newspapers, especially the tabloids— it should be fun.
No one moans better. No one does over-the-top better. Not many are as masochistic as them—which other country would call a referendum when it wasn’t needed, then decide to leave, and then wring their hands over it for three years and refuse to leave? Radio waves crackle with annoyance, podcasts crib – and English feel at home.
Same thing with cricket. Take this match. They looked good for 375. Then 275 loomed. Oh, you should have heard the radio commentary here and the shows in sports stations that went on that time. ‘End of world’ dirges. You walked around the stadium, to the bars and to the stands: people were a touch concerned but the angst wasn’t there. They kept shouting out encouragement. Stokesyyy or Roooooot … Ben Stokes stirred, England stirred and suddenly 350 re-appeared. Sighs of relief.
The same story with the ball. “Woakesyyyy” went the chants after he took out KL Rahul. India decided to tease and taunt the English. Rohit Sharma seemed to be out of touch, doing stuff he doesn’t do normally: shimmying down the track but not connecting. Moving towards off stump but swatting weakly. Virat Kohli kept doing his thing. The crowd, English section of it, seemed happy and then suddenly in the 21st over, Sharma went berserk. Three fours. Three quality hits: a pull, a withering square-drive, and a gorgeous slice through point.
Fret re-entered the English air. The thing with English expectations and pressure and all that tripe is mainly from the cricketing community – former cricket players and members of clubs strewn across the country. The rest are fine actually. Really. The people in general, that is. Across the cricket cities, you hear what-has-happened-to-brave-new-English sighs or aren’t-we-as-good-as-we-thought puzzlement but there hasn’t been the annoyance, shock, and outrage that is reflected in tabloids and former players’ tweets. It’s in football that the public goes overboard as we saw with the football world cup – cricket doesn’t quite feature in their imagination much despite embarrassing efforts from the tabloids.
They screamed ‘End of the world’, ‘Calamity Cricket’ and such tripe after the loss to Australia. Someone should sit them with a chilled stout beer—Guinness if they want—and tell; Australia are a far better team. Under pressure in a chase, they have Mitch Starc to go to? With England, who? When several wickets fall, Alex Carey can come and do a Bevan. With England, who? That loss isn’t as unexpected as it was made out to be.
Luck of the toss
It was a good toss to win. Flat track. Sun out. Go for scoreboard pressure. And most important of all, England had Jason Roy back. What a difference he made. Third ball of the day, he cracked one through covers. You should have heard the noise at the stadium, especially considering it was largely Indian. The English in the crowd found their lungs and cheered. They had identified the moment correctly. They knew the importance of it. They realised with Roy, the brave new English way can be re-found. They were right.
Roy allows this team to believe. He clears all self-doubts and confusion. Jonny Bairstow can no longer worry about hanging around, he can swing his bat around. It allows England to soak up Eoin Morgan’s failures without much worry. (Morgan better be prepared for bouncers just outside off from every team – twice in a row, he has gone down now.). Roy allows Root to come later, not against the new ball where he remains an lbw candidate to in-dippers. Roy allows the middle order —Stokes and Buttler —to focus merely on the last 20 overs surge. Not to get bogged down with reviving an innings from a slump. He made 67 but it was like a huge shot of adrenalin and hope.
However, came a moment in the end overs when 375 looked distant and perhaps they had to settle down for 300. Help came from the most unlikely source. Mohammad Shami, who had bowled brilliantly, giving away just 25 runs in his first seven overs, bled 44 in his last three. Full tosses, length balls came in a flood and Stokes and Co. looted.
Everything hung on Sharma and Kohli in the chase. Once they fell, England were home – the game went on for a while after that but by the end when Dhoni and Jadhav were batting, there was a soporific air about it all. A sense of dullness, as 39 runs came in the last five overs. England must have known once Sharma fell, the game was theirs. But since it’s England, they probably wouldn’t have. Keep calm and keep moaning, but let the team do its thing.