What a weekend of cricket. I’ll start by quickly mentioning the Pakistan and Afghanistan contest, which was one of the best ODIs I’ve seen in ages. Although I feel desperately sad for Afghanistan, who really should have won, I tip my hat to Pakistan’s middle and late-order. It was some comeback.
The game was so intriguing because in a low scoring affair every run mattered. It was deliciously old-school. Once the rate climbed above a run-a-ball, one sensed Pakistan would be strangled and extinguished by Afghanistan’s excellent spinners. However, the Afghan captain inexplicably turned to seam at a crucial juncture. And this poor decision effectively cost his team the game.
The England versus India game, on the other hand, was a complete contrast. The pitch was excellent for batting and so a typically high scoring contest ensued. England batted well – most notably by targeting the short boundary to one side of the ground – and then Chris Woakes, the world’s greatest living Villa fan, sealed the win with an astonishing opening spell. It’s probably the best he’s bowled in pyjamas.
Once India found themselves 28-1 off 10 overs the game was effectively up. You can’t start an innings this slowly when you need almost 340 to win. There were plenty of nervous nellies on Twitter but I was always extremely confident that England would win from that position. And so it proved.
Obviously as an England supporter I’m incredibly relieved at the result. England gambled by including Jason Roy (who some described as only 80% fit) and also took a punt with their team selection.
Just as an aside, I hate it when England pick five seamers and just the single spinner – a 4:2 balance is more natural and covers all bases in all conditions – and I really didn’t like the look of England’s longish tail. If the selectors no longer have faith in Moeen then they should have picked Dawson. And moving forward they should choose between Wood and Plunkett.
Fortunately, however, it soon became clear that this would be England’s day. We won the toss, which was extremely important in the circumstances, and Roy and Bairstow were able to get England off to a solid start with a little more help from lady luck. Jonny in particular lived a very charmed life in the first few overs. But to his credit he battled through and went on to make a cathartic hundred.
I won’t talk too much about Jason Roy as I’m getting a little tired of the hyperbole. He batted very well and obviously makes a huge difference to England’s top order. However, I did smirk when, after waxing lyrical about Roy all day, Rob Key claimed (without a hint of irony) that if Roy was called Adam Gilchrist then he’d be waxing lyrical about him all day.
Joking aside I think there’s a danger that everyone’s becoming too Roy-focused. What happens, for example, if he gets out early against New Zealand? It could precipitate an unnecessary panic. Roy has always been an important part of the team but he’s just one cog alongside our many other destructive hitters. England can win games with or without him.
The other star with the bat was undoubtedly Ben Stokes, who has been England’s player of the tournament so far. He was the catalyst for some late pyrotechnics that turned a decent score of 300 into a rather more imposing 337. I love watching Stokes bat. Perhaps Rob Key might want to make some Adam Gilchrist comparisons here too? At least Ben is left handed.
At the halfway stage I thought England were favourites but India’s batsmen were clearly a threat. Sharma and Kohli are obviously two of the top players in the world, and I feared defeat should one of them make a century.
In the end, however, it didn’t matter. Rohit took too long to find his feet and his pedestrian start, in which he looked more like Ishant Sharma than Rohit Sharma, possibly cost India the game. Although he eventually managed to raise the tempo the rate was too demanding for new batsmen arriving at the crease.
Credit must also go to England’s bowlers, of course. I thought Woakes’s opening burst was the defining passage of play in the match – he would’ve been my man of the match rather than Jonny – and Plunkett also showed how valuable he is in the middle overs (again). Jofra Archer also underlined why he makes England’s attack look so much better.
I should stress, however, that we should all keep our feet firmly planted on the ground after this win. After all, it didn’t really address the frailties we’ve displayed earlier in the tournament. Yes we won, which is obviously great, but we did so (a) setting a total rather than chasing, and (b) in conditions that couldn’t have been more favourable to us.
Although England deserve to encounter the odd wicket that suits them – home advantage has got to count for something, right? – this one couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune time. The pitch enabled our batsmen to play in their gung-ho fashion and it completely nullified India’s spinners.
With England facing elimination from the tournament – something I very much doubt the authorities want – the pitch was exactly what the doctor ordered. Although perhaps introducing the word ‘doctor’ or ‘doctored’ here probably isn’t advisable considering that hardcore India supporters are already spitting feathers!
Those concocting wild conspiracy theories will no doubt find plenty of ‘evidence’ after yesterday’s events. After all, it wasn’t just the pitch that suited England down to the ground. Although I’d previously read that the ICC have instructed groundsmen to prepare strips in the middle of the square during this tournament, this particular pitch was curiously off-centred. In fact, it left a very short boundary of just 59m on one side.
This, erm, coincidence, was duly noted by Virat Kohli both before and after the match. Obviously when the away team have two leg-spinners, one of whom is amongst the leading wicket takers in the tournament, it certainly helps the home batsmen if slight miss-hits sail for six. And all this at Edgbaston, the home ground of England’s director of cricket ;-)