India, playing something of an experimental XI, roared back in the second half of both innings to first set a defendable target and then induce a collapse that threw away a wonderful position built on England’s openers’ positive strokeplay. The visitors might point to injuries suffered in the field by both Eoin Morgan and Sam Billings, but Krunal Pandya was too bold with the bat and Bhuvneshwar Kumar was too brilliant with the ball. Only one side showed the belief one would expect in world champions – and that wasn’t the one with the trophy.
Eoin Morgan won the toss and, as is customary in a day-nighter, elected to chase. With the tedious talk of “win the toss, win the match” consigned to history via the simple expedient of bring disproved, a close match looked in prospect. The visitors might even have started favourites, as India rested the golden boy Rishabh Pant, retained the leaden boy KL Rahul and handed new caps to Prasidh Krishna and Hardik Pandya’s big brother, Krunal.
In a Pune ground that, roofless, looks half-finished, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan started watchfully against accurate seam bowling from Mark Wood and the match’s other pair of brothers, Sam and Tom Curran. But it was Ben Stokes who reaped the reward of Rohit’s wicket when he sought to build on the firm foundation he had constructed, but flashed an edge to Jos Buttler who gloved the catch, 28 the opener’s contribution.
Captain Kohli and the experienced Dhawan accumulated circumspectly, mindful of a longer than usual tail, wisely aware of the fact that few ODIs are won batting in overs 15-35, but plenty are lost. With 32 overs gone and both batsmen past 50, Virat fell for the same sucker punch as Rohit, a half-hearted flick lifting the ball to a motionless Moeen, 58 his contribution.
With Shreyas Iyer come and gone for six, the game became a little becalmed as Dhawan sought his century and Rahul sought some form. England’s bowlers’ discipline was rewarded with the opener’s wicket, Morgan taking the catch, leaving Dhawan two short of his century.
Once Hardik steered the ball into Jonny Bairstow’s hand at slip to give way to Krunal, England were looking at a target well under 300, but India had other plans. The debutant played in the fearless way we have come to expect of Indian newbies this winter, smashing it from the get-go, his confidence infecting his partner, as Rahul found his timing. The partnership realised 112 runs in just under 10 overs of aggressive strokeplay with Krunal looking to the heavens to celebrate his half-century, having lost his father in January – emotions ran high.
If England bowlers had the best of the first 40 overs, the wheels fell off a little in the last ten (with Captain Morgan off the field having his injured hand stitched). That said, on a blameless pitch, England would have accepted a chase of 318 all day long. Stokes and Wood shared the wickets but Sam Curran was the pick of the attack with his first nine overs going for just 36. England’s spin twins, finding little with which to work, went for 94 in their 12 overs, Moeen given just three on his return to the colours.
Under lights, Bairstow and Jason Roy were happy to see off the smart swing of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, but climbed into Prasidh, Shardul Thakur and Krunal, the ball slammed down the ground for sixes and fours, the powerplay disappearing for 89 runs. Virat, running out of options, turned to the wrist spin of Kuldeep, but it was all coming as one to Bairstow, who reached his fifty with a pull to leg and celebrated next ball with a six over cow corner. England were running away with it.
Roy had been batting a little in his partner’s wake but still contributed 46 to the first wicket’s 135 runs in just 14.2 overs, Prasidh relieved rather than joyous at taking his first wicket for his country. He could enjoy his second more, an out-of-sorts Stokes mistiming a punch straight to extra cover.
Prasidh, bowling fast, should have had England’s captain for a golden duck, but Virat spilled a relatively easy catch at slip – a let off and an early lesson for the debutant that the game can give and take swiftly.
Bairstow followed Dhawan’s path to fall just short of an outstanding hundred, miscuing a pull having lost a bit of fluency along with the strike, as wickets fell at the other end – 94 off 66 was a fine output from and aggressive but not reckless knock. Thakur showed real cojones snaring Morgan in his next over, a fine comeback spell after being carted for 30 off three in his first. Buttler stuck on the crease, was trapped lbw, and Thakur had pulled his country back into the match, England 176 for five at the halfway point, and suddenly second favourites.
England needed 101 runs off just over 100 balls and the endgame was afoot pitting England’s flashy but fragile late order against India’s inexperienced attack. Sam Billings immediately mispunched Prasidh to short extra cover and the Indian debutant was growing a golden arm. Moeen was still there and batting well, but he’d have to be thinking about going at run a ball to the end if England were to get over the line. Once again, Moeen, so often left out or messed about, was England’s linchpin.
Kohli knew it and brought his gun bowler and Bhuvi produced a ball as handsome as himself that bounced and left Moeen who needed to be in good touch to edge it. England’s hopes were fading, but don’t tell the Curran brothers who lack nothing in self-belief.
The end came quickly, India’s winning margin of 66 runs with almost eight overs in hand not so much reflecting the balance of the play over the eight hours, but the ability of Virat’s men to drive home a hard-won advantage and England’s susceptibility to pressure induced by bat or ball. Neither side look as balanced as they could be and both will see changes in the two matches to come, but England will have to win both to take the series – and that’s a very long shot indeed.
Jingle by Jeff Perkins