Virat Kohli’s brilliance gave India’s innings a grandstand finish and a sniff of winning the game. From 87/5 after 15 overs to 156/6, he inspired a fantastic comeback. But anything less than 170 on an excellent pitch wasn’t going to hassle England much, with the heavy artillery at their disposal. In the end, they won the third T20I by eight wickets with 10 balls remaining and went 2-1 up in the five-match series.
So resounding was England’s victory that Eoin Morgan was not required to bat in his 100th T20I. Jos Buttler’s unbeaten 83 off 52 balls, his highest score in this format, did the job for the tourists. The Englishman had returned home after the first Test due to England’s much-critiqued rotation policy. And he showed what they really missed. Daring and enterprise.
But as excellent as he was, India’s spinners creaked under pressure, a tendency that’s becoming increasingly predictable and alarming in limited-over games. As Yuzvendra Chahal came into the attack in the fourth over, Buttler danced down the track and blasted a six over mid-on. Ruffled, the leggie instantly went on the defensive. He nailed Jason Roy in that over, but Buttler wrested the initiative.
India are clearly hurt by Ravindra Jadeja’s absence and Kuldeep Yadav’s loss of form. Under pressure, the team’s ground fielding and catching, too, slipped. Lethargy when batting in powerplay also made a decisive difference. India managed only 24/3 as opposed to England’s 57/1.
Mark Wood and Jofra Archer bowled with searing pace and the Indian top order struggled, even to come onto the front foot. KL Rahul was beaten for pace by a Wood delivery that nipped back sharply and screamed through the gate. Back-to-back ducks would not help Rahul’s longevity in this format.
Then Rohit Sharma, too, was unusually troubled by pace. Pinned back into the crease by raw pace and the scoreboard barely moving, he tried to manufacture an ambitious shot against Wood but was undone by the angle and extra bounce. Ishan Kishan, the hero of the last match, was bounced out by Chris Jordan, wicketkeeper Buttler running back to pocket the top edge. Wood was touching 150kph, Archer was going at 145kph-plus. Jordan was not too far behind either.
What a difference Wood has made. Joe Root’s cagey England didn’t play him in the last two Tests, especially in the fourth Test, when he was available for selection. Eoin Morgan’s bold (and beautiful) England use the 31-year-old Durham quick as their pace spearhead. England concede less than seven runs per over in T20I Powerplays when Wood and Archer hunt in a pair. Wood purchased a bit of movement too, which made him deadlier.
India reshuffled their batting order to accommodate Rahul as Rohit’s opening partner. After his blazing half-century in the last game, Kishan was a shoo-in and was sent at No. 3. The rejig saw Kohli drop himself down the order at No .4, a decision that the captain will surely rethink going ahead. No. 3 is Kohli’s domain in white-ball cricket and being the team’s best batsman a tinkering is probably ill-advised.
The difference in class was evident from ball one. Until then, pace had kept the Indian batsmen crease-bound. Kohli got off the mark with a front-foot cover drive for four off Woods. Towards the back-end of the innings, he somewhat ruined Wood’s figures, hitting him for consecutive sixes followed by a four. The second six came off a 150kph delivery and the best part was the way the India skipper had dominated the bowler’s length by going deep into the crease. The lofted drive over mid-off was the standout shot of the match.
Kohli’s 77 not out off 46 balls, laced with eight fours and four sixes, was a lone ranger. He paced his innings beautifully. He was on 28 off 29 balls at one stage. From there to his 27th T20I half-century accounted for only eight more deliveries. He thus dispelled doubts regarding his touch, after he went for three ducks in five innings. He has now scored two half-centuries on the spin in grand style.
Only Rishabh Pant gave his skipper some support during a 40-run fourth-wicket partnership. But a crazy run-out – Pant going for the third – nipped the association in the bud. For twice now in three matches, India’s batting has faltered after being sent in. Yet again, like the T20I series opener, pace did the business for England.