They waited, and waited, and waited, and finally England’s bowlers had the chance to spearhead a victory on this tour. True, none of them picked up more than two wickets, but that only established how good they were as a unit. India were kept to a measly 147 on a pitch that wasn’t in any way untoward and as icing on the cake Eoin Morgan shellacked a half-century to make sure his team took a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Tymal Mills, Chris Jordan, Liam Plunkett and Ben Stokes were given a brief to bowl length and just short of it, while ensuring the batsmen do not have room to use their pace to relieve the pressure. Moeen Ali was at his restrictive best, picking up 2 for 21 in four overs, targeting the stumps with flat darts and in the end the services of their specialist spinner Adil Rashid was not even needed.
India, who had lost the toss and were put in, seemed rather obsessed with power-hitting. They had gone through the entire World T20 playing proper cricket, only to be brutally swept aside by West Indies in the semi-final. From the moment Virat Kohli carved the second ball of the match for four through point, it seemed like they were trying go for the boundary every single ball. It did not pay off tonight, as England dashed a little bit of the Republic Day celebrations at a jam-packed Green Park stadium in Kanpur.
It doesn’t seem the worst strategy to leave your brain behind as a batsman when playing T20. There’s 10 wickets to negotiate 20 overs, and while batting first, it even seems logical to do so. But India don’t normally play in this fashion and will need time to catch up with the rest of the world. They couldn’t deal with how they were bleeding wickets, at the worst possible times.
Kohli and KL Rahul, who opened the batting, fell within three overs of each other on either side of the Powerplay. Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh and Manish Pandey – Nos 3, 4 and 6 – were dismissed in the space of three overs between the 11th and the 14th. India couldn’t lay a good enough foundation at the start and were running out of batsmen by the end. No Indian made it past a score of 34.
The key for England was in how well they read the pitch. It was both grassy and cracked and lent itself to fast bowlers who were willing to hit the deck and also experiment with cross-seamers and slower balls.
Jordan and Mills – who were playing their first matches on this tour – did exactly that. Then Moeen, who began his spell with Kohli’s wicket, was excellent during the middle overs, bowling wicket-to-wicket. His length was equally important, not full enough to drive freely and not short enough that the batsman could use the pace.
India had somehow mis-hit their way to 47 in the Powerplay, but once England had the comfort of having five men on the boundary, the edges no longer found gaps. They offered a mere 37 runs between the 13th and 19th overs.
Moeen had created the pressure, the quicks came back, knowing they will be targeted, but by varying their pace and banging the ball into the pitch without the width to cut or pull, they gave India, who were by now only trying to hit the ball as hard as they could, very few options.
Hardik Pandya found that out when he was cramped by a a short ball rising up to his shoulder and found deep point; Mills meanwhile had his first T20I wicket. Rahul was caught unawards by a sharp bouncer from Jordan in the fourth over, which he could only fend to short fine leg.—AFP