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Friday, April 23, 2021

India vs England: New combo packs a punch

Kohli (80) opens with Sharma (64) to take India to 224/ 2, before Kumar & Thakur finish off the job.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty |
Updated: March 21, 2021 8:01:42 am
India outplay England in high-scoring final T20I to seal series in AhmedabadBhuvneshwar Kumar celebrates a wicket against England. (BCCI)

The clash of the T20I titans lived up to expectations. For 12 overs during England’s chase, Dawid Malan and Jos Buttler threatened to trump a Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli jugalbandi but Bhuvneshwar Kumar came back for his second spell and dismissed Buttler. Words were exchanged between Buttler and Kohli but India had an opening and they barged through to win the final T20I by 36 runs to take the series 3-2.

Chasing 225 to win, England were well placed at end of 11 overs on 120 for 1. In the next five overs, England lost 4 wickets for just 22 runs as the game dramatically changed. The legspinner Rahul Chahar gave just 7 runs in the 12th before Kumar gave just 3 and snuffled out Buttler in the next to seize the moment. The seamers bowled a slew of slower cutters to suck out the fight from England who finished at 188/8. Two slower balls from Shardul Thakur accounted for Jonny Bairstow and Malan in the 15th over and Hardik Pandya cramped Eoin Morgan for room with a short of a length delivery in the next over. Once again, India prevailed in a high-pressure game.

Kumar was the real hero, though. In the best batting surface of the series, amid a power-hitting spree from both sides, he returned with 2/15 from four overs, with 17 precious dot balls. Back after a long lay-off, the medium pacer has been the re-discovery of the series for India. Kumar had removed Jason Roy in the very first over with a big inswinger, but Buttler’s wicket was the game-changer. Injury-prone of late, his workload management would be imperative during the IPL.

Another significant event in the series is the fact that India have won the last two matches after batting first, overturning the notion that winning toss (and chasing) would be enough to win T20s in India.

The big find

India would also rate the opening partnership of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli as the big find of the series. In the post-match presentation, Kohli said he would be opening with Sharma in the T20 world cup and would even open in IPL as preparation for that.

KL Rahul’s poor form saw him get the axe, while fit-again T Natarajan was included in his place. It was an attacking substitution, giving India the cushion of an extra seamer, as they yet again lost the toss and bowled second.

A Rohit-Kohli opening combination forced England to alter their pace ploy. In the previous matches, Adil Rashid opened the bowling followed by the brute pace of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood. Rashid had dismissed Kohli a couple of times in this series and today he was given a second over inside the Powerplay. England even reviewed an lbw call against Rohit, a googly from Rashid that was clearly missing leg. The opener had enough. He promptly launched the leggie over wide long-on.

Rohit was the aggressor and Kohli was the anchor, although the latter had set the ball rolling with a four off Archer. The uppish drive eluded the outstretched right hand of the England skipper. Two balls hence, Rohit played a majestic cover drive along the carpet for a four – ‘what you can do, I can do better’ – their batting was the game’s joie de vivre.

Champions’ mindset

Top players thrive on a healthy ego. But Kohli doesn’t mind eschewing it, when an able partner intends to play the lead. As Rohit took the attack to the opposition, his captain played second fiddle. With the duo at the top, England couldn’t soften up India’s batting with pace and bounce – something that had worked well in the previous four matches.

Wood still bowled at 150kph. Rohit’s bowler’s back drive sent the ball to the straight boundary even quicker. The fast bowler banged in short, Kohli pulled him over the long-leg boundary. Morgan was running out of options. The England quicks were resorting to an overdose of slower deliveries. But Rohit was clearing the boundary rope (five sixes) for fun. This was his 22nd fifty (64, 34 balls) in T20Is.

Kohli carried the bat, scoring his 28th half-century in this format in the process. His 50 of 36 balls had just two fours and two sixes. His 80 not out off 52 deliveries had seven boundaries.

Thanks to Rohit and Kohli, India were 60 for no loss after six overs, their best Powerplay score in the series. Suryakumar Yadav and Pandya, at No. 3 and No. 4 respectively, played lovely cameos, but a Rohit-Kohli opening pair was the team’s biggest gain. The middle order too looks power-packed with the left-hander Ishan Kishan in the bench. Once Jasprit Bumrah returns, the pace department will be even more venomous.

Perhaps, it’s just in the spin that India will sweat a bit. Yuzvendra Chahal was dropped mid-way during the series and young Chahar is yet to seal his spot. Overall, though, the series has seen many a puzzle fall in place for India.

Brief scores: India 224 for 2 (Kohli 80*, Sharma 64) beat England 188 for 8 (Malan 68, Buttler 52, Thakur 3-45, Kumar 2-15) by 36 runs.

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