Krunal Pandya with bat, Prasidh Krishna with ball make impressive debuts in India 66-run win over England in ODI series opener
At the post-match presentation, a rapturous Virat Kohli called India’s 66-run victory “one of our sweetest victories in recent past”. He was not exaggerating, even if you take into account the horde of memorable wins India have stacked up this year. At one stage, the home side, after setting a total of 317/5, seemed hustling to a defeat, what with England’s openers racing to 135 runs in a little over 14 overs. The contest seemed dead and buried. But as India had illustrated throughout this year, they did not surrender all too meekly. Instead, they fought and wrested the match back from England’s firm grasp to go 1-0 in the three-match series.
This indefatigability at the face of an imminent defeat is the soul of this team. Kohli had touched upon the facet in his press conference before the Test series in Australia last December, that no matter what his team would not concede defeat without a fight. At no stage do they give up hope. How well has his troops lived to embody that spirit, coming back as they did to win Test series in Australia and against England later on. Though several faces have changed in the shorter versions, the spirit remains intact.
On Tuesday, among others, it was the turn of medium-pace trio, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shardul Thakur and Prasidh Krishna to answer the dire call of their skipper. Krishna was initially put to the sword by the swashbuckling England openers Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy, conceding 37 runs from the first 3 overs. Any other bowler would have lost the plot and nerves after receiving such a hammering. But the Karnataka speedster retained his composure and returned in the second spell to remove Roy, Ben Stokes and Sam Billings. His nippiness and extra bounce were useful on a shirtfront of a surface. While in the first spell, he erred on the fuller side, in the second he mixed his lengths judiciously. Roy was snared with a short ball that came back into him. Stokes was deceived by an off-cutter that came slower to his bat than he had gauged.
Like him, Thakur was wayward in his first spell, spraying on the leg-side and giving too much room outside the off-stump, thus leaking 30 runs in the first three overs. But as he had orchestrated throughout the limited-over series, he struck twice in an over (the third time in a row he has managed that). In the space of four balls, he removed the dangerous Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler. Suddenly, England, from a position of supremacy unravelled. From strolling at 135/0 to teetering at 176/5.
But given England’s depth, they were well capable of weathering the storm. But Krishna came back to account for Sam Billings, before Bhuvneshwar showed yet again that injuries and lay-off have not diminished his craft. He nailed Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid. The former’s wicket again was timely, as he is well capable of winning games on his own. With the lower-order ammo at their disposal, they are well capable of chasing down 81 runs off 78 balls.
But Bhuvneshwar fooled him with a cutter—one of his several subtle variations—that bounced and hung in the air more than Ali had expected. Though Bhuvneshwar barely nudged 140kph, the fear of his supreme craft was sufficient for England’s batsmen to embrace caution. Even Roy and Bairstow were conscious of seeing him out rather than taking the attack on him. England’s cruise thus ended in total catastrophe.
Not to discount the efforts of Krunal Pandya, who after hitting the fastest half-century by an ODI debutant, bowled cleverly and thriftily. For a spinner to concede 59 runs in 10 overs was no shame on this surface without any grip or turn, especially on a day when Kuldeep Yadav leaked 68 of 9. Unlike Kuldeep, he kept tight lengths and gifted hardly any freebie. To score against him, England batsmen had to take risks.
But it was Krunal’s buccaneering knock that galvanised India to 317/5. When the debutant walked out to bat, the home team had their backs to the wall, having lost four wickets for 36 runs inside 9 overs, and in danger of frittering away the platform set by Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli. Along with KL Rahul, who roared back into form in international cricket with a scintillating 43-ball 62, his pyrotechnics was the cornerstone of a crucial 112-run sixth-wicket alliance that came in just 9.3 overs.
England’s bowlers had no answers to his big-hitting — on occasions when they dropped it short, Krunal unfurled his emphatic pulls, and if they pitched it up, he would biff it through the line. Like his brother, Hardik, there was a streak of nonchalance about his batting.
Rahul, on the other hand, has endured a torrid time of late. After registering scores of 1, 0, 0, and 14 in four T20Is, he was left out of the playing XI in the final T20I. But he illustrated why he had the team management’s unequivocal support. Sure enough, Rahul was slow to get off the blocks. He navigated through a tricky middle-order collapse, which saw India lose their way from 169/1 after 32 overs to 205/5 after 41. However, he made up for it, rampaging 49 runs off his final 24 deliveries, replete with the typical ramp and pick-up shots.
The Krunal-Rahul show notwithstanding, it was Dhawan and Kohli who set it up for India. Their 105-run second-wicket partnership was a throwback to the 1990s style of batting —- accelerating gradually by rotating the strike. From 83/1 after 20 overs, India raced to 169/1 after 32 overs, with their two experienced top-order batsmen hardly breaking into a sweat.
Even though his international T20 stocks have nosedived in recent times, Dhawan has been India’s linchpin in the 50-over format, averaging over 45 in the last four years. On an easy-paced surface, he showcased his repertoire and found full value for shots, before getting dismissed on 98, his sixth score in the 90s in ODIs. At the other end, Kohli was batting like a dream, before a moment of indiscretion ended his vigil. He was gutted, but at the end of the match, he was a much happier man.
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