Everyone will rightly laud the miserly bowling of England’s T20 attack, which restricted India’s power-packed top and middle-order to a well-below-par 124 in the first of the five-match series, but you can’t help wondering whether they have given away a tactic in the build up to the competition’s World Cup that might have been better kept hidden.
Adil Rashid opened the bowling in the format for the first time and in combination with the pace and bounce of Jofra Archer, India made a thoroughly uneasy start from which, despite a fluent 67 from Shreyas Iyer, they never really recovered.
It’s a well-known fact that many openers prefer to face pace at the outset of their innings – and that is never truer than in T20 where batsmen use that pace to go over the top or flash through the infield when only two men are allowed outside the circle in the batting power play.
But the contrast between Archer’s hostility and Rashid’s slow, teasing arc disconcerted the hosts and – whether by accident or design – suggested England might have found the right recipe for October’s tournament. That said, cricketers in the shortest format seem to learn more quickly than in other fields of the game and seven months hence, should England continue to find success with such an opening blend, you can expect India, and others, to have computed a plan to counter it.
Archer dismissed KL Rahul when he waved airily and played on, but it was a ball back of a length that speared in to Virat Kohli’s top hand, potentially painfully, as he played back that rattled the Indian captain. The final ball of the over, a wild slog from outside his leg stump, suggested he didn’t fancy it at all and that sense was confirmed when he stepped back and tried to clout Rashid in the next over and slapped to mid-off.
Shikhar Dhawan, surprisingly preferred to one of the T20 greats in Rohit Sharma to open with Rahul, scratched around, never able to find a way against Rashid even when he came right across his stumps to try to sweep.
He backed away and had his bails removed by Mark Wood, who also looked spritely when he wasn’t falling over in his follow-through. He does this so often now that one wonders whether it should be punished by the umpires in the way Steven Finn was when he took to getting too close to the stumps and removing the bails with his right knee. Or maybe the element of surprise when Wood remains upright is so acute that that ends up being the danger ball.
Rishabh Pant, restored to the Indian white-ball team after 14 months, seemed ready to continue where he left off in the Test series, although Archer cramped him up on leg stump for a little while. But, frustrated, Pant dipped into his ever-expanding repertoire of innovations and produced a shot that almost defies interpretation: suffice to say it bore similarities to the reverse paddle over the slips that he essayed shortly after Jimmy Anderson had taken the new ball on the third day of the final Test, yet had a strange geometry all of its own and, in a confluence of wrists, he manged to manoeuvre it from outside leg, over the keeper and his imaginary longstop to the boundary for the craziest of intentional sixes.
That said, maybe he should stick to that process: forced to bat in largely sensible fashion by India’s early losses, a routine leg-side half volley from Ben Stokes ended in Jonny Bairstow’s hands at deep square leg, cutting him off just as he was getting going.
Iyer’s touch at times was sublime and, helped by Hardik Pandya, it looked as if the hosts could still total 140. England’s Sussex contingent ensured that didn’t happen, Chris Jordan obliging to take a bullet at mid-off from Pandya off Archer, Shardul Thakur holing out first ball to the same bowler and then Jordan having Dawid Malan to thank as a rank short one was slapped by Iyer to deep square leg. Rashid didn’t even have to bowl his full quota.
A resigned Twitter poll questioned in which over England would win it: eight, 10th or 12th. In reality, it took a little longer but Jason Roy, who scored only 30 in three innings the last time he wore England T20 colours towards the end of last year in South Africa, enjoyed a less inhibited time on his way to 49 as Axar Patel could find neither the economy he produces in the IPL, nor the deadliness he possesses in Tests.
With Jos Buttler contributing a cameo as opener as well, Malan was able to drop anchor insofar as you can do that in T20 as the rate quickly eased to under a run a ball. There was even time for a welcome unbeaten 26 off 17 balls for Bairstow, who came out so bristling with red-headed rage after a disastrous and almost runless return to Test cricket, that he almost got into a fight with Washington Sundar after inadvertently obstructing him at the non-striker’s end as the spinner tried to take a return catch off Malan.
The former Middlesex man took the final glory, striking a straight six to win when the scores were level, neatly ensuring that Yorkshireman born and adopted bookended a thoroughly impressive victory for the tourists.
Jingle by Mog