Tangibles elude India as glaring imperfections spill over

Hales

Aryan Surana

As June drew to a close in 2019, the white Kookaburra clocked up thousands of air miles in Edgbaston. It was all but an obedient slave as Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow flexed their muscles to add 160, the highest opening partnership against India in World Cup history. No matter who came on to bowl the leather hunt couldn't be ceased, and it needed a fine diving catch from Ravindra Jadeja to eventually put a spoke in England's wheel.

Three years and a global pandemic later, India again found themselves at the receiving end, with Jos Buttler and Alex Hales quashing their long-standing trophy hopes. The desperation for a wicket grew manifold, but it never came. There was no Jadeja this time around to convert the half-chance – a steepler that Suryakumar Yadav put down running backwards – as England went about chasing 169 with the truculence of a bull, hitting 14 boundaries in the first ten overs to India's six. The 170-run stand between Hales and Buttler is the best ever in T20 World Cup history, and easily the worst ever if you ask Rohit Sharma and his troops to pick the most blood-curdling alliance they have encountered.

India's defence wasn't supposed to unravel this way. The momentum was by their side going into the interval thanks to Hardik Pandya's 28-ball fifty which took them to a competitive total from an underwhelming 100/3 in 15 overs. A delicious bout was on the cards given India had rattled along at 11.6 at the death as compared to the Super 12 average of 8.6, while England had snared 21 wickets at an economy of 6. Batting on 24 off 21 heading into the final four, Hardik peppered the short square boundaries to finish with 63 off 33 as England rued the services of Mark Wood whose nippy hard lengths had the potential to make a difference.

His replacement Chris Jordan was expensive for his three wickets, but his scalps stopped India in their tracks whenever they showed any signs of progress, case in point the removal of Virat Kohli right after he notched up his fourth fifty of the tournament. ''I think we need to give special credit to Jordan, to bowl 3 overs at the death coming into the semi-final, it was a tough job. He handled the pressure towards the end pretty well, especially bowling against a world class player like Hardik Pandya,'' Buttler remarked after marshalling his men into the grand finale versus Pakistan, having risen to the occasion in both his capacities as a batter and a leader.

He bowled Adil Rashid out before the advent of Rishabh Pant, who was persisted with ahead of Dinesh Karthik especially to counter the leg-spinner. India's battery of right-handers at the top could only manage 20 off his quota at the cost of Suryakumar, who saw the bat turn in his hand during the execution of a lofted cover drive as Rashid got the ball to spin away a smidgen. The premature dismissal of the in-form batter who had breathed life into many Indian innings in this campaign was a big win, and the celebrations in the England camp suggested as much.

"I thought the bowlers were outstanding. Adil Rashid I thought had his best day for a while. He was so tough to play. I thought he looked like getting a wicket every over. I thought he was outstanding," Buttler acknowledged. "He's been brilliant for a long, long period of time. I've worked with him a lot. I have a great seat to watch him go about his business.''

Even though India took an impressive 108 runs in the final 10 overs as Hardik played the knock he was due, they couldn't quite undo the damage done by yet another slow start. KL Rahul slashed Ben Stokes to get off the mark in style before flattering to deceive as Chris Woakes induced a nick. His fragility against the top-8 teams in this World Cup – 3(8) vs Pakistan, 18(16) vs New Zealand, 4(8) vs Pakistan, 9(14) vs South Africa, 5 (5) vs England – coupled with Rohit's dearth of fluency left India with an unenviable record. Their scoring rate of 6 in the PowerPlay was third from the bottom, superior only to Netherlands and Zimbabwe, and Rahul Dravid admitted that not scoring enough runs in the first six overs is tantamount to losing half the battle. ''You need to start well in T20Is. If you concede the advantage initially, then it gets difficult from thereon. We lost all phases tonight except for the last five overs with the bat. When you stay behind the eight ball in that many phases then you are bound to be outplayed,'' the head coach analysed.

Individual brilliance manifesting itself in Kohli's clock-turning heroics and Suryakumar's physics-defying pyrotechnics kept India afloat, but there was always vulnerability simmering beneath the surface. Pitted, at the grandest of stages, against a powerhouse that revolutionized white-ball cricket, the cracks could no longer be papered over.