Wheels seal the deal for rejuvenated England

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.

Abhijato Sensarma


  • Don’t know why we should feel any inferiority complex about 20-20. We have the best batting squad in the world by a distance and in Eoin Morgan the best captain, a key issue in this format, where you can’t afford to let things drift.

  • Would also be interested to see England carry the “pace is pace yaar” logic to its conclusion by selecting Stone in the squad over Tom Curran

    • I think there’s a chance that this will be the plan for the Ashes. Fight fire with fire. I can see England picking Archer, Wood and Stone in the squad. But can they all stay fit? Highly doubtful sadly.

      • Well yes, hiding behind the sofa time with relation to fitness (not that that stopped them picking a scarcely fit Bresnan, Tremlett and Rankin on the same tour!) but other than that I’d bloody well hope so–there’s no evidence that Curran or Woakes would do anything in Australia, and I’m not at all convinced that Overton would be a better pick than any of them.

  • Just as a postscript as the legendary Sam Curran fails again. Worst figures on either side. With every match his central contract becomes more of a joke. As with Buttler in test cricket, how many chances is our other teachers pet going to get.

    • Why bother with facts when you could have insults?! In what way exactly is 0-15 off 2 overs worse than 0-15 off 2 overs, 0-16 off 2 overs (plus a first-baller) or 0-24 off 3 overs?

      If you were really after an answer to your question rather than simply looking to vent some spleen, I would hazard a guess at: in white-ball–particularly given the age disparity–until he convinces Morgan that he’s a worse option than Willey (they currently have pretty similar records)…which requires him to be given some sort of run to find out what he can do. In red-ball, abroad quite possibly none! and in England until he stops having a bowling average of 23 and an average differential of plus several–although presumably you’re aware that he’s probably England’s eighth choice seamer and third choice seamer-who-can-bat now.

      • …and today he has the most economical figures on either side….and Kohli walks the walk.

        Funny old game isn’t it…:-)

        • A couple of things here Marek. Sam is on a central contract, so presumably is considered a front line bowler, as if he was a true all rounder he’d be in the top 6.
          Yesterday he bowled 2 reasonable enough overs as the 6th bowler, then is taken off and doesn’t bowl again. What does this tell you about Morgans confidence in him.
          I’m not against Sam personally, he’s a useful combative cricketer, but I don’t see him as international standard and that’s what frustrates me about his selection.

          • I suspect, maybe paradoxically, that’s why Morgan’s giving him a go, at least for a while–because he clearly had the same misgivings about Willey. And. at least in T20, IPL bigwigs who like to get their value for money, have splashed out quite a lot of it on him (and not on Willey or Topley), so it’s not only Morgan. But yes–I’d be surprised at this stage if he turns out substantially better than Willey.

            I think your general point relates to the systemic issues that we were all talking about on another thread: that effectively England’s first team is being used to do the job that the Lions would have done even ten years ago, because of the weaknesses in/vandalisms of the system. Although then again…Michael Yardy and Jamie Dalrymple…!

      • Good reason for spleen. Name me one occasion where Sam Curran has had a significant effect on any England game. When he first came on the scene he had a decent series with the bat, now he doesn’t do that anymore.
        Sorry Marek, don’t understand your defence of the indefensible. There’s no sign he’s improving his contributions. Was limited to 2 overs again in the latest T20.
        Willey is a better bat and can swing the new ball more at greater pace than our Sam, but he’s not a teachers pet like the Currans.

        • I’m not trying to defend anything–I wouldn’t have him in the team!

          The main issue is that you’re treating your opinion as some kind of absolute verifiable gospel–which it clearly isn’t: if it was, four different selectors wouldn’t be picking some of the picks you describe as indefensible, and a 100-cap England player who’s been a professional cricket analyst for decades wouldn’t be describing one of your views as idiotic. You’ve just got a different opinion–that’s all.

          As for the teacher’s pet argument–apart from it still sounding totally infantile–it’s just incoherent. You’ve literally just written a post saying that it’s good that Morgan has selectorial control over the white-ball teams, and now you appear to be blaming his selection on unprofessional, unethical behaviour by a different selector. Well, which is it?–quite apart from the fact that all four people involved in selection seem to be happy with him in the team. Is Morgan the teacher now? Or Silverwood and Root? Or Smith? Or all of them?

          What you’re showing more than anything else, I suspect, is that you have no idea either why selectors pick a range of different types of player in general–regardless of whether they’re right or wrong to do so–or the mechanics of selection in the current England team.


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