India found an irresistible combination of powerful batting and timely wickets enough to beat England in the decisive fifth T20 International in Ahmedabad by 36 runs, securing a 3-2 series win in the process.
With Natarajan replacing the dramatically out of sorts KL Rahul, and with no Ishan Kishan to open with Rohit, it fell to Virat Kohli to join the latter in the middle for the start after England had won the toss again.
Pace bowling from the likes of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood had dominated India in the early part of several of the matches in this series but the experienced pair turned that on its head. Rohit ensured that the quicker the ball, the quicker it went to the boundary,0 while Kohli bided his time, playing the junior role in the power play, from which the hosts emerged with 60 for none – their best effort of the series.
Just as Rohit was thinking of accelerating further, he edged Stokes on to his leg stump but there was no respite for England as Suryakumar picked up where the opener had left off, the run-rate pushing north of 10. With his score on 32 off 16 balls, he seemed set for a big contribution, but his innings was stopped dead in its tracks by a feat of brilliance from Chris Jordan.
Running at full speed to his right at long-on, he caught the ball with one hand but, finding himself out of room at the boundary edge he flicked the ball to Jason Roy, a good 10 yards away from him. Roy’s reaction was almost as priceless as the fielding itself, as he began to laugh uncontrollably, suitably as amazed and amused as the millions watching around the world.
In some games, momentum can swing on such a moment, but not this one.
India have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to power hitting with five or six overs left. Rishabh Pant? Leave him in the hutch for now. Hardik Pandya? OK.
Pandya set to work immediately, blasting and driving his way to 39 off 17. Kohli, with his 29th T20I score of 50+ in the bag, accelerated again in the last few overs to make an unbeaten 80. It was an innings of multiple parts – there for the full 20 overs, but facing only 52 balls, letting others to the initial hitting, knowing his chance to shine would come.
There is scoreboard pressure. And then there is 224 for two. That puts remarkable stress on the side batting second. It requires a great start and a kind of perfection throughout the chase. England, of course, have overcome bigger scores, but you need to get everything right.
Jason Roy tried to get England off to such a start, but missed the second ball, which rearranged his stumps. He did play a lovely cover drive to a water bottle after he reached the boundary, but England need more than good shots to static objects from their openers if they are to be winners of a second world limited-overs tournament.
Dawid Malan and Jos Buttler showed that the pitch still possessed no demons. Play though the line, and runs were there to be had. At the end of the power play, England were ahead of India at the same stage. Game well and truly on.
Malan brought up a personal milestone of 1,000 T20 International runs, in fewer innings than anyone else. I wonder whether people still consider him a statistical anomaly. He probably won’t bat much in the IPL, and some may doubt his place in the World T20 squad. But No 1 in the rankings is no fluke, and his innings here was just as brilliant as any other we’ve seen in the series.
But scoreboard pressure never lets up. The power play is only the end of the beginning. Malan and Buttler reached impressive half-centuries in 33 and 30 balls respectively – world class batting – but the need to be perfect, the need for every bad ball and most of the good ones have to go for runs eats away.
Bhuve Kumar’s bowling just became too difficult to get away, and Buttler perished at long-off. Kohli had some words with him on his way back, and we can all be sure that he’ll never be asked about them. Figures of two for 15 stood out in such a high-scoring game
In the fourth game of the series, England found that the best way of keeping their own run-rate down was to lose a steady stream of wickets. Jonny Bairstow could not get going and departed for seven. And all this puts more and more pressure on the established batsman.
India found a way to get batsmen in and build around the Kohli foundation. England couldn’t repeat this formula, and Malan was gone when he didn’t pick Thakur’s knuckleball. The rest of the innings crumbled.
A total of 188 for eight is reasonable enough, but there will be questions asked of Morgan’s men ahead of the World T20 tournament. Players will need to come in and perform under such conditions they faced in the last two games here, and it may be telling that in this series, no one could stick around and affect the outcome.
From an Indian perspective, it was a massive success, twice beating England after being put in when it had been considered a huge advantage to win the toss. They also showed that they learn quickly – more quickly than England maybe.
Jingle by James Sherwood