It’s not often that a T20 chase is treated as an afterthought. But the batting performance of the Englishmen was a foregone conclusion long before they even came out to bat at the Motera yesterday.
The Indians have seldom been guilty of not being able to stabilise an innings while looking to be intentful. The skipper has often rued his side’s conservatism in Test cricket, and this sentiment seemed to carry itself over to the press conferences in the build-up to the T20 series against England.
Yet, there was logic to his reasoning—the Indians have been cautious starters who carry one or two too many anchors in their batting line-up as a way of security. Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and Shreyas Iyer are all players who take more time to settle in than they take time to shift gears in the death overs.
The approach has paid dividends in the international format, but this is because the game’s tactics have always been a bit behind the times when compared to the franchise leagues of the world. The Indian team displays a conservatism which permeates its batting as well as its team composition. Embracing their reactionary role within the game has been a fruitful one because of their depth in experience.
But with a change in tactic came a change in the strategies put in place by the management. India lost two quick wickets in the Powerplay. Losing a third one in this format of the game is a sin. So surely, Shreyas Iyer would have been sent out at his designated spot, No4, to stem the flow of wickets and scratch some English wounds in the way of upping the run-rate. Instead, we got Rishabh Pant.
The experiment didn’t work. It’s tough to stick the landing when your plan is all-out attack on a pitch which doesn’t mind helping the bowlers. It became virtually impossible on Friday evening, where the crowd was treated to an English bowling masterclass rather than another Pant blitz. The latter did play a reverse ramp off Jofra Archer—the Jimmy Anderson of English T20I cricket—with the ease which comes only from knowing there aren’t too many overs for you to survive anyway. He was scoring at a SR of 91 at the time of his dismissal, though—the move hadn’t worked.
Shreyas Iyer played the knock of the innings, defined by the circumstances of his scoring rather than the ease of playing under the lights and on a dew-influenced outfield. This doesn’t take away from Jason Roy’s match-winning innings of 49, but Iyer certainly justified being in the team despite the clamour around Suryakumar Yadav to be made his replacement in the eleven. Suffice to say, Iyer’s going to remain in the team—and next time around, he’s going to play at No4 as well.
Jofra Archer was the most impressive bowler of the match, taking 3 for 23 off his four overs. His balls reared up from a length which would cause less trouble to the batsmen if bowled by lesser bowlers. But he’s a man who knows his witchcraft with the white ball intimately. He snatched the momentum from the Indians even as they went down swinging against him. By the time the Powerplay of the first innings was over, the match’s result was already a foregone conclusion courtesy his spell.
Mark Wood might have had less impressive figures of 1-20 on a night when no one seemed to be missing their plans, but he was certainly the most intimidating of bowlers. He’s got the wheels which makes him the engine of a locomotive that might be erratic but is also the fastest across the town. Pace is pace yaar, and he used the universal language of cricketing aggression to further tilt the balance in the favour of his team’s batsmen during his spell in the middle overs.
Jonny Bairstow closed out the match with a quickfire cameo which reminded the world that his form is as good as it’s ever been for the white-ball team. Dawid Malan was the usual suspect accompanying him by the time the team was done—his average experienced another boost, pushing its way into the mid-50s, an achievement which may be as ridiculous as it’s temporary. He’ll do well to keep it at that stage by the time this series has concluded, but these are thoughts to be had on another day.
Virat Kohli’s biggest strength is that he walks the talk, which has gone some way in compensating his lack of tactical acumen at certain stages of his white-ball games. But his words about match fitness and intent rang hollow by the time his team finished losing another opening game of a series.
England will be confident heading into the next match. But they must be wary too. They carry a team combination which can do no wrong on some days. But at other times, they’ve often faced the risk of digging themselves into holes even Buttler can’t rescue them from. (Ah yes, it’s good to see Buttler again.)
You can’t read too much into a single game of T20 cricket. The Indians could very well breach 200 in the next match courtesy a single knock. But till that time, Virat Kohli must build up his rage as well as his range again. He needs to come great for his country—merely coming good isn’t helpful when you’re primarily an anchor in the side.
This match wasn’t pretty viewing for Indian fans. But if it’s any consolation, the opposition is a team which may very well forget how to play cricket all over again by the time the series comes to a conclusion. Conversely, they must remember the same can happen to them—our game’s a funny one no matter which coloured ball you play it with, after all.