England proved again that raw pace – along with an ability to win the toss – can be an important weapon in T20 cricket in India, but will know that keeping Jofra Archer and Mark Wood wrapped in soft materials in the seven months between now and the world T20 is key to such a strategy.
The other bowlers look so much more at ease when the pair are firing – and elbow and heel problems notwithstanding, they were certainly doing that. While a team might be able to see off a new-ball burst by one – and make no mistake these two hurry the best of batsmen – trying to do it against the other coming on first change is a trickier prospect.
On this occasion it was Wood who finished with the impressive figures – three for 31 from his four overs – but Archer’s ability to find zip and bounce and bowl a tight leg-stump line to India’s destructive left-handers played an equally important part.
Only Virat Kohli’s brilliance made this any sort of competitive game.
After England once again put India in, Archer could have had a wicket with his first ball – a return catch from the reinstated Rohit Sharma spilled more in surprise at its lack of speed than anything else, but Wood quickly had the measure of KL Rahul, not so much out of form as not in long enough to show whether he is or not, bringing one back through an attempt to work the ball to leg, to restrict the opener’s return from three innings to just one run.
Rohit was lucky that being late on a fullish one from the Durham paceman seemed precisely calibrated to produce a thick inside edge and a fortuitous first boundary, but Wood quickly followed the opener, rested for the first two games, outside his leg stump and forced him to glove a rapidly improvised pull into the hands of the diving Archer at short fine leg.
With Chris Jordan chipping in as Ishan Kishan top-edged a bouncer for Jos Buttler to run back and take a high catch over his shoulder – Ben Stokes and Wood were moving in like a pincer movement from short third man and short fine leg but bailed out just early enough to allow Buttler the time and space to pouch it – India found themselves 24 for three in the final over of the powerplay, an almost identical position to the one they could not retrieve in the first match.
Buttler was soon involved again. Rishabh Pant tried to pinch an overthrow after running too far past the wicket at the striker’s end, Buttler retrieved, threw to Sam Curran at the far end and the Surrey seamer was too quick for Pant’s desperate dive: 68 for four.
Then came Kohli. And it was vintage.
The captain admitted playing second fiddle to debutant Ishan in their successful run chase in the second match, but today was pretty much all the Indian captain’s own work, his shotmaking a throwback to the 2016 IPL when he smashed four centuries and seven fifties in 16 innings of total dominance.
There is a point in many Kohli limited-overs innings when the switches in gear cannot be measured in multiples of one: like an impatient driver, he goes straight from third to fifth but with a smoothness you would expect only with automatic transmission. The acceleration is borne out by the stats – after reaching 30, he motors to 170 runs per 100 balls and, once beyond 50, the speedometer increases again to more than 200.
He was brutal on Wood – possibly costing the bowler the man of the match award in the process – when he returned for his final over, taking 17 from it, the picks a pull from well outside off that he pummelled flat to square leg for six, and a sweetly-timed lofted drive for six more next ball: from the pornographic to the erotic in a space of two deliveries.
His unbeaten 77 from 46 balls gave India an outside chance but Buttler was determined from the outset to make up for a first-ball duck on Sunday. Even though Bhuve Kumar found early swing, the England wicketkeeper took two sixes over long-on from Yuvzendra Chahal’s first over – the innings’ fourth – seemingly unperturbed by losing opening partner Jason Roy, caught at point reverse sweeping, midway through the same over.
With Dawid Malan clipping and chipping at the other end – his only boundary a top-edged pull for six that he knew little about off an otherwise economical over from Hardik Pandya – the pair put on 58 in just over six overs before the left-hander advanced to Washington Sundar, the flatter of the two spinners turning it past his outside edge for a stumping.
But England were by then more than halfway there, with just over half their overs remaining, the only question really whether there were enough runs still required for Buttler to complete a first T20 international hundred. There weren’t, or at least Bairstow was in no mood to manufacture a situation in which there might be so, helping himself to 40 of his own from 28 balls.
Buttler’s undefeated 83 from 52 balls, the highest score of the day, was adjudged the outstanding performance, but his captain Eoin Morgan, who didn’t get to the middle on his 100th T20 international appearance, might have claimed the accolade, as one Guerilla tweeter suggested, for winning the toss.
Teams putting the other in to bat have now won all three of the matches so far and if England get in that position in the fourth on Thursday and manage to clinch the series it might be worth them having a bat in the dead rubber to see if Archer and Wood can be equally effective with a total to defend.
Jingle by James Sherwood