If England’s crushing eight-wicket win in the first match had induced any idea that they might stroll to an easy series triumph, those thoughts were ruthlessly dispelled as India bounced back to level in fine style.
Recent Test history suggests that losing the first match of a series brings out the fight in India, after defeats in Adelaide and Chennai merely spurred them on to series wins. Eoin Morgan had said that he knew England would come under pressure during this T20 series and they certainly did.
After Virat Kohli won the toss, it was not a surprise to find England batting first. There was one enforced change as Mark Wood rested a sore heel and Tom Curran (resplendent in Dale Steyn headband) came in.
India looked to IPL winners Mumbai Indians to reinforce their ranks, with debuts handed to Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav at the expense of Shikhar Dhawan and Axar Patel. A definite case of chalk and cheese for Axar who bestrode Ahmedabad like a colossus with the red (or pink) ball, only to be chopped down to size with the white one.
Alarm bells rang early for England. Just as they had struck early to seize the initiative in the first game, so India did here. In the match up of piercing eyes, it was Jos Buttler’s that blinked and Bhuve Kumar’s that smiled, Buttler removed lbw first ball.
Jason Roy pillaged his way to bristling 46 before being superbly caught by Kumar at deep square leg. England had lost Malan for a steady 24 off 23, but at 91 for three no one was pressing the panic button.
Thereafter, however, Bairstow, Morgan and Stokes all got into their 20s in third gear rather than overdrive and couldn’t kick on. Bairstow fell to a juggled Suryakumar catch at deep square leg off Washington Sundar. Shardul Thakur claimed Morgan caught behind with a superbly disguised off cutter and Ben Stokes mistimed a pull that plopped up for an easy catch to Hardik Pandya at long-on.
England’s 164 for six felt serviceable but unspectacular and short of the 180 plus they would have hoped for. India had bowled well to keep their opponents in check, with wickets shared – two each for Thakur and Sundar, one apiece for Kumar and Chahal.
India could hardly have started worse. KL Rahul would have hoped to better his one run from the first game but was caught behind off the last ball of Sam Curran’s superb maiden first over as England decided against opening with Adil Rashid, as they had on Friday. Were we about to see India provide fizzling squibs rather than the explosive fireworks their partisan crowd craved? Not a bit of it.
Rahul’s departure merely lit the touch paper. Virat Kohli sparkled back to form, with 73 off 49 balls, riding his one piece of luck as Rashid must have felt he had his man in the fifteenth over with a ball that dipped and gripped outside off, drawing Kohli into a drive as it turned away, making him lose balance. Buttler was quick to whip off the bails, but multiple replays seemed indecisive. If there was anything behind the line, it was miniscule. Not out was the verdict and Virat survived to see his team home in style.
The captain’s return to form was not the main news, however. The headlines belonged to new cap Kishan, who made a mockery of what had seemed a sluggish track, by blazing a debut 56 off 32 balls. He was helped by one large slice of Ben Stokes-shaped luck on 40y, as Rashid cramped him for room and what seemed a dolly catch became a dolly drop.
But by that stage, the damage to England had been done. Rashid did finally get him lbw and with the Kohli stumping and the Stokes drop, will feel the most aggrieved at what was generally a poor day for England in the field, despite Sam Curran’s fine one for 22. Stokes, Tom Curran and Chris Jordan were the weak links, conceding 81 runs in 5.5 overs.
Rishabh Pant, of course, lit up the Narendra Modi Stadium as brightly as the crowd’s 70,000 mobile phone torches, but his innings was as brief as it was explosive with 26 off 13 balls as India went on to win with 13 balls to spare.
Jingle by Jeff Perkins