Going for the jugular: India’s new batting philosophy

Dinesh Karthik shouldered arms to a good-length ball outside off. Chris Jordan was closing out the 11th over of a T20I innings and it begged the question why India’s designated finisher was relinquishing an opportunity to cut, let alone slash it over point for six. Playing a shot for no runs is all right, because you tried at least. But not even attempting to score at that stage in this format amounts to a cardinal sin, doesn’t it? After all, every dot ball is a win for the opposition.

So what made Karthik take the road less travelled? While Richard Gleeson had bowled a double wicket-maiden after the PowerPlay, one brought two again as India lost Hardik Pandya and Suryakumar Yadav off successive balls. It was at such a juncture that Karthik offered judgement, his leave a bit ironic as India had, till that point, thrown caution to the wind.

Rohit Sharma went for an ambitious hoick no sooner than he’d taken guard. Though he edged it past slip the message was resoundingly clear. Saddled with inherent conservatism for too long, India were now jumping on the T20 batting bandwagon with all their might. The captain was leading the charge as he set himself up for David Willey’s inswingers and tarnished his over by helping the last ball over fine leg. Pace attacks on either side hit the deck, serving up next to nothing in the fuller zones, but Willey was an anomaly on the day. He pitched it up in search of the magic ball only for Rohit to flail a six downtown.

Rishabh Pant opening the innings further represented India’s commitment to make a killing in the Powerplay. His 32-ball ton against Himachal Pradesh in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy – the fastest T20 century by an Indian and second quickest overall – came at the top of the order. But for someone who had been fast-tracked into the Test team on the back of white-ball exploits, Pant had been ill at ease in his chartered territory. His T20I numbers – 741 runs in 48 T20Is at an average of 23.1 and a strike rate of 123.9 – were at odds with his precocious talent. The elevation in Birmingham, however, seemed to awaken the sleeping giant.

He thumped Sam Curran over his head before showing his range with a dab to the keeper’s left. Pant was not promoted to just slog blindly, but to manoeuvre the field and pick the gaps in a way only he can. Take, for instance, the freakish whip he played off Moeen Ali. It could be best described as the hybrid of the pull and the sweep. Boundaries like those that were conjured up out of nowhere bemused England who were already missing their mark often against the left-right combination.

India adopted this freewheeling approach knowing full well that it might blow up in their face on occasions. You sign up for the whole package, and for every humongous total there could be a brush with ignominy round the corner. Hence, it came as no surprise when they were reduced to 89/5 after having capped off the PowerPlay on a high at 61/1. The tumbling of wickets, par for the course, didn’t dissuade India from their chosen path.

Returning to the side at the expense of the in-form Deepak Hooda, Virat Kohli took Gleeson on third ball. It didn’t make for a pretty sight as his usually stationary head went all awry and the ball ballooned off the thick edge, but the uncharacteristic hoick was indicative of the fact that each member of the batting unit was on the same page. You must be prepared to trade off wickets in the hot pursuit of runs in T20 cricket.

India’s run-rate graph featured a linear progression before hitting a plateau for two overs in the aftermath of Gleeson’s double whammy. But Suryakumar and Hardik transferred the pressure back on England to ensure India didn’t slink into the shell as used to be the case earlier. Karthik’s run-out was a bitter blow and it came down to Ravindra Jadeja and Harshal Patel, who made a 36-ball 54 against Northamptonshire, to give India the finishing kick. The southpaw went with the spin – Liam Livingstone dishes out off-breaks to left-handers and leggies to right-handers – over cover and Harshal beat the sweeper to his right as India garnered 17 off the over to keep the tempo up. The English spin troika was rendered ineffective, with Matthew Parkinson, Ali and Livingstone conceding 67 in the six overs between them.

India lost 4 wickets for 54 in overs 7-15 but the zealous intent to keep building on the good work left them with 170/8, a target that proved well beyond England’s reach. India not only earned their maiden T20I victory in fortress Edgbaston and with it their fourth consecutive series win over England, but also walked away with a blueprint on maximising their batting resources.