India vs England, 1st ODI: Virat Kohli's brilliance brutally exposed visitors' prosaic bowling attack

Terminator 2, the 1991 Arnold Schwarzenegger smash hit sequel, has a great bad guy. It is a robot made out of a mimetic poly alloy that means it can morph into any shape and absorb bullets as they are fired into its body. As Schwarzenegger, brilliantly cast as a monosyllabic cyborg, tries to protect the future saviour of the human race from this futuristic assassin the villain just keeps on coming, even as bits of his liquid metal body fly off in different directions. He is relentless in his pursuit.

There is something of the T-1000 in England’s approach to batting in ODI cricket. They have decided that their strength is in their ability to attack with the bat, and they have committed to that completely. It doesn’t matter what is thrown at them, they just keep swinging. Even when England lost Alex Hales early, even when Jason Roy departed when he was well set, even when Jos Buttler lost his wicket just as he was looking to accelerate, they kept on going. It is this total commitment to all out attack that has seen them make more than 350 seven times since in the last 18 months. Before that, they had only reached that landmark twice in more than 40 years.

England bowlers looked out of sorts as Virat Kohli and Kedar Jadhav took the attack to them. AP

England bowlers looked out of sorts as Virat Kohli and Kedar Jadhav took the attack to them. AP

In Pune on Sunday, they made 350 for seven from their 50 overs, and perhaps the most impressive thing about that total was that they didn’t bat all that well. Wickets fell at regular intervals and batsmen got out just as they looked to kick on. Still, England managed to reach a daunting total. If everything goes their way, this England batting line up can beat the ODI world record of 444 that they made against Pakistan during 2016.

There is, of course, an element of risk with England playing this way. If a succession of batsmen fail going hard then it leaves them relying on their long tail to get them out of trouble. That has happened, notably when Chris Woakes made 95 batting at number eight to tie a game against Sri Lanka last year, but that won’t always be the case.

When chasing 239 to win on a tricky pitch in Dhaka earlier this winter, England found themselves 26 for four in the 10th over, a position from which they never recovered. They were bundled out for 204 even as they continued to attack. But for this team to play in any other way makes no sense, it is the way this side has been built. England have tried playing percentage cricket that was about scoring the minimum needed to win by not taking risks, and doing just that they went out of the 2015 World Cup in the first round. Limited overs cricket in 2017 is an arms race, and those that refuse to build up an appropriate arsenal will be blown away.

While England’s batting is so strong, the same cannot be said for their bowling which can have a prosaic look to it. While the top seven, and sometimes those below them in the batting order, can do remarkable things with the bat, there is no mercurial player with the ball. The closest they have is Adil Rashid, but he can be expensive and inconsistent. In this match he was expensive and inconsistent.

That is yet another reason why England’s berserk batting makes sense. Without a lightning fast quick bowler, or a mystery spinner, the bowling attack needs the added pressure that the batting can exert on opponents. Chasing seven or eight an over from the very start of their innings means batsmen need to go hard at the England bowlers, thereby giving them a chance to take wickets. As India stumbled to 63 for four in pursuit of 351, it was a perfect illustration of how this approach can bring results for England.

England bowled really well in the opening part of India’s chase. The seamers bowled decent lines. India were forced to attack as the required run rate started high and kept on climbing. Solid bowling combined with the need to score quickly brings wickets.

As well as England did to reach 350, this was a flat pitch on a small ground with a quick outfield. And India have Virat Kohli. There will be some debate about this statement - but there shouldn’t be.

Virat Kohli is the best 50-over batsman of all time.

If the format survives, and he can be bothered to keep going, he will have more hundreds and more runs than anyone that ever played ODI cricket. Those that worship Sachin Tendulkar may think this is sacrilegious, but the stats bare this out. Of those that have scored more than 2000 ODI runs, Kohli has the third best average. And he is still getting better.

This was his 177th ODI and his 27th century. He is fourth on the list of the players with the most centuries and he is only 28 years old. The men above him on that list played a minimum of 198 more matches. He has 17 hundreds batting second in ODIs, no one has more. He is just phenomenal.

Kohli put on 200 runs in 146 balls in combination with Kedar Jadhav, and as they got on top of England’s bowlers the weaknesses were there for everyone to see. Once India were up with the rate on a flat pitch, England struggled.

Once the batting got on top of them there was little in the way or response from the English bowlers. Kohli and Jadhav could do as they pleased. Jadhav’s contribution will be lost in the rush to lay tributes at the feet of King Kohli, but he was just as destructive and didn’t allow the scoreboard pressure to tell. When Kohli departed for a brilliant 122 it was up to him to see India home, but while England’s bowlers did not trouble him, a nasty bout of cramp did. It slowed him up somewhat, and he was forced to play big shots. One of those did for him in the end when he was caught on the mid-wicket boundary for 120.

Even with the two centurions gone, England could not pull things back, with India eventually winning by three wickets with 11 balls to spare thanks to a measured innings of 40 not out from Hardik Pandya.

This will be a bitter loss for England, having batted so well they should have gone on to win. The focus over the next few months will be the Champions Trophy which takes place in England in June. England will feel far more confident of containing teams in home conditions, but while their batting has all the vim and vigour of a robot killer sent back in time, their bowling is much more low-tech.

Catch the highlights of the 1st ODI between India and England at Pune here.

Published Date: Jan 16, 2017 08:36 AM | Updated Date: Jan 16, 2017 10:30 AM

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