Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are you here? If Maximus had been talking about cricket, most people would expect him to have been celebrating a nail-biting, last-ball death or glory finish.
England’s victory in the second ODI wasn’t that, as they triumphed by six wickets with more than six overs to go. The match even had some of the most boring, “boring middle overs” you are ever likely to endure, particularly as India pushed, prodded and more or less sleep-walked through theirs
But those aside, this match fizzed and sparkled with some extraordinary power hitting and strokeplay, peppered by dropped catches and a truly contentious – and perhaps match-clinching – decision by the third umpire.
Things had looked in the bag for England from some way out, yet they still managed to cause a flutter or two for English hearts who had watched their capitulation from a strong position in the first ODI. Chasing 337 to win, 285 for one became 287 for 4 and even with the finishing line in sight, seasoned English watchers were taking refuge behind sofas and screaming “Surely not?” at their tellies, phones, radios or laptops.
As it was, Liam Livingstone and Dawid Malan, two men playing due to the absence or Morgan and Billings through injury and with a point to prove in England’s turbo-powered ODI squad, saw them home.
But events leading up to that were simply magnificent. On Tuesday, the polar opposite approaches of the two sides had been very much in evidence. India, cautious in the early stages, kept their powder dry and then unleashed late-over fury. England guns blazed from the off, but ran out of bullets when they were most needed.
Today, India used the same strategy. England however, muted their start and lit the touchpaper later to devastating effect. Stand-in captain Jos Buttler won the toss and to no one’s surprise asked India to bat, a rare personal highlight of a poor outing for him that included dropping the Indian captain, but ultimately a winning captain is a good captain.
Rohit and Shikhar Dhawan went early to Sam Curran and the lively Reece Topley, another man on a mission to impress. Virat Kohli (66 from 79) and KL Rahul making an excellent 108 from 114 accelerated without ever really hitting full throttle, before Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya exploded towards the end.
Pant was as rapid-fire as ever with seven sixes and three fours in his 40-ball 77. But 336 seemed around 40 runs light on an excellent batting track that got better as the day wore on. They hit 34 boundaries in their entire innings whereas England got there in 34 overs to stay right on top of their chase. A mention in despatches for Topley for his two for 50 – Shikhar Dhawan just couldn’t get to grips with his bounce and swing – and to Moeen Ali for his wicketless but frugal ten overs.
Spin has been England’s nemesis in other formats, but here, India’s two left-armers Kuldeep Yadav and Krunal Pandya were well and truly put to the sword by Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow, taking none for 156 between them in their 16 overs. Jason Roy had set the early pace, finally breaking through the 40s, but was run out on 55. It was exceptional fielding by Rohit and as the batsmen paused in the middle, it was the Surrey man sacrificed.
As the survivor, Bairstow knew his duty was to get out or go large. He chose the latter and did so in man-of-the-match winning style, his 124 containing seven sixes and 11 fours, his hundred smashed in style with a six off Yadav, before he departed with England almost home and dry. The partnership of 175 off 117 balls with Ben Stokes was ginger flavoured rocket fuel.
Stokes recalled his finest World Cup and Headingly moments pummelling 84 runs with 10 sixes in a 33- ball destruction derby off Kuldeep and Krunal. His first 50 in 40 balls was sedate compared to the sequence of 6, 6, 6, 1 ,6, 4, 2, 6, 6, 2, 4 that took him to 99 but just as England expected, Bhuve Kumar extracted some belated revenge and Stokes departed, gloving a bouncer to Pan.
Stokes will know that when it’s your day and fortune smiles, you grab it with both hands. Virat Kohli will know that too, even as he knocks on third umpire Anil Chaudhary’s dressing-room door, convinced Stokes was out on 31. Kuldeep Yadav’s direct hit from the deep almost caught out the left-hander, who was negligently lazy in completing a simple second run, perhaps complacently looking at who the fielder was. The replays were not fully conclusive (though many will argue that Stokes’ bat was grounded only on the crease, not beyond it) and perhaps it just came down to benefit of the doubt. England, however, had earned their luck and claimed the spoils, teeing up a great Sunday decider to what many had feared would be a low-key series.
Jingle by Richard Peel