Cricket

India vs England: A series low on context, but high on lessons to take India’s ODI game forward

  • Yash Jha
  • March 29th, 2021
  • 11:17:41 IST

In the first ODI of this series, India went from 159/1 in 30 overs to 205/4 in 40 overs. In reply, England smashed 135/0 in the first 14.1 overs… but were all out for 251 in 42.1 overs.

In the second game, India dawdled from 90/2 in 20 overs to 173/3 in 35 overs. England hit more runs in a five-over burst where they went from 194/1 in 30 overs to 281/1 in 35 overs.

during the 3rd One Day International match between India and England held at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Pune, India on the 28th March 2021 Photo by Pankaj Nangia / Sportzpics for BCCI

India won the ODI series against England 2-1 in Pune. Sportzpics

In the series-decider, despite being 128/3 in the first 20 overs, India paced their way to 243/4 by the end of the 35th over. England’s chase stuttered, from 68/3 in 10.3 overs to 200/7 in 30.3 overs… but found the late legs to finish on 322/9 – only seven runs shy of India’s 329.

Barring an aberration of a collapse in the opening match, the team that forced the matter more – commonly referred to as ‘dared’ in commentary parlance – emerged victorious almost all the time. And even the outcome of the decider was almost turned on its head by the team that bats deep enough to keep forcing the matter, till the 300th ball.

The most obvious way to read who’s ‘forcing the matter’, without going into deeper figures, would be to examine the boundary count. In game one, India had scored 96 boundary runs going into their 35th over; England scored as many at the fall of their first wicket, in the 15th over (before the collapse dramatically altered the contest). In game two, England made more boundary runs (54) between just the 33rd and 35th overs of their chase than India did in their first 30 overs (50). In the finale, the boundary runs were equal at the end of 35 overs, and as close as 178-174 at the end of both innings – and it was, unsurprisingly, the tightest contest of the series.

On these two counts, it’s safe to say if ‘intent’ is replaced with this more focused ‘forcing the matter’, one perhaps arrives closer to cracking the 50-over code. I mean, it’s been good enough to win a World Cup, so that’s not a bad reflection.

**** ****

The inaugural World Test Championship final in June. The much-awaited T20 World Cup in October-November. Between these two varied contests oscillates the general interest of the men’s cricket community in 2021.

For India, part of that WTC final, and hosts for the T20 WC, it’s a semi-perpetual state of auditioning, and an almost-perpetual state of managing workloads.

So the lines could easily start getting blurry when playing that other format called ODIs… but hopefully, on the evidence of these three matches against England to mark the end of a long, gruelling but glorious international season – their first in COVID times – certain elements of the 50-over game became clearer for India, some of which might represent short-term benefits in T20Is too.

For the best-performing team not to win a trophy in the last eight years, any and all lessons are loaded with value.

Openers: Why the English way works

Rohit Sharma (vice-captain) of India and Shikhar Dhawan of India during the 3rd One Day International match between India and England held at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Pune, India on the 28th March 2021  Photo by Pankaj Nangia / Sportzpics for BCCI

Rohit Sharma-Shikhar Dhawan partnership run rate has moved from 5.32 to 5.38 in the last four years. Sportzpics

In the first two games, India’s opening partnership went at 3.84 runs per over, and England’s 7.95. In both games, despite a late surge, India fell short of a truly safe total.

In the decider, India’s openers added 103 runs in 14.4 overs – and gave themselves the best chance to put on board the kind of total that can take the game away from the chasing side.

There is no doubting that Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan form one of India’s finest-ever opening pairings in ODI cricket – and that is saying something for a team that has had associations of the ilk of Tendulkar-Ganguly and Tendulkar-Sehwag in its modern history.

They’ve also had, for most of their now eight-year long association at the top of the order, a set formula of going about their work: start steady, preserve wickets in the first 10 overs, lay a platform, and build upon it.

All told, Sharma-Dhawan average 45.67 runs per stand, at a partnership scoring rate of 5.32 per over.

Then you have Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow – a combination formed after the 2017 Champions Trophy, and upon whose success was forged the template of the 2019 World Cup winners. Roy and Bairstow average 60.52 runs per stand, while scoring at 7.04 per over – both, by a margin, the best for any opening pair with at least 20 partnerships in men’s ODI history.

Since the time Roy and Bairstow joined forces at the top for England, the Sharma-Dhawan partnership run rate has moved almost negligibly northwards, from an overall mark of 5.32 to 5.38 in the last four years; of the 21 opening pairs to bat together at least 10 times in this period, they are only the tenth-fastest.

This method, from 2017 till the end of the 2019 World Cup, was prudent given India’s struggles beyond the top-order. But keeping up with the game is step one towards getting ahead of the game, and the decider provided a good indicator of what can be done – especially given the guns India now possess lower down the order.

Rishabh Pant: A way, and a league, of his own

Rishabh Pant of (WK) India plays a shot during the 3rd One Day International match between India and England held at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Pune, India on the 28th March 2021  Photo by Pankaj Nangia / Sportzpics for BCCI

In 2021, Pant has 772 runs in 16 innings across formats, at an average of 55.14 and a strike rate of 90.39. Sportzpics

Speaking of guns lower down the order… is there any more potent than this guy?

77 off 40 balls, coming in at number five in the 33rd over. 78 off 62 balls, coming in at number four in the 17th over. Strike rate of 151.96. While he was at the crease, India scored at 8.46 per over – compared to an overall series scoring rate of 6.55. He hit eight fours and 11 sixes, and consumed only 31 dots, in 102 balls. And while doing all of this, he was in control of his shots almost 90% of the time.

Adil Rashid, in the context of the way the series unfolded, had a quite decent time against all other Indian batsmen: 3/157 in 23.3 overs, at 6.68 per over. Against Pant? 0/55 in 5.3 overs, at 10 runs per over.

The same Pant also went along at 11.54 per over when facing pace – smashing a combined 75 runs off the 39 balls he faced from Reece Topley, Sam Curran, Tom Curran and Ben Stokes.

To think that Pant didn’t make India’s first-choice XI for this series, and might not have at any point if it weren’t for Shreyas Iyer’s injury. To think that Pant played only two of India’s 20 limited overs games in 2020...

To be fair, it was a pretty ordinary year for this prodigious beast of a batsman. Coming into the IPL 2020 final, Pant had stumbled to 287 runs from 263 balls, managing only 22 runs per innings, at only 6.55 runs per over. Then, walking in at 22/3 in 3.3 overs in the final, against the tournament’s best bowling unit [Mumbai Indians], he hit 56 off 38 balls.

And then, he reached Australia – part of India’s extended bubble, but not part of the white-ball squads, an opportunity to work upon his fitness. He was also not picked for the opening Test.

Since then? 29 at the MCG. 36 and 97 at the SCG. 23 and 89* at the Gabba. 91, 11, 58*, 8, 1, 101 in the Tests against England. A relatively quiet T20I series. And now these two ODI gems.

In 2021, Pant has 772 runs in 16 innings across formats, at an average of 55.14 and a strike rate of 90.39 – not a bad scoring rate for someone who has had 10 Test innings in these 16.

And guess what? We aren’t hearing a lot of chatter around the keeping now either – which, almost as rule of thumb, is a sure indicator that you’re going alright behind the stumps.

If this really is to be the year of Pant, it may well be the year to end that eight-year-long Indian wait as well.

Pant-Hardik: We could get used to this

Between overs 21-40, in the first two ODIs, India only lost a wicket every 60 balls – and scored at just over a run-a-ball. Both the times, India had entered the phase with two or fewer wickets lost.

In game three, despite entering the 21st over of the innings with the top-three back in the hut, India added 155 runs in these 20 overs. 99 of those runs were scored in the 11.4 overs that Pant and Hardik Pandya were together at the crease.

Middle overs impetus: it’s an area of India’s limited overs game that has been crying out loud for a course correction. They have the solution. They must hold on to it.

What Pandya does at the death in white-ball cricket is well known, and we caught a glimpse of that again in his 16-ball 35 in the second ODI. But what Hardik, together with Pant, can provide in the middle overs could well be the bridge between where India have been and where England are. Think Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler – but with both batsman being equally destructive against both pace and spin.

While on Hardik, how good was his bowling at the death? 0/48 in nine overs in a match where both teams crossed 320 – and only 12 off his last two overs, the 46th and 49th of the chase.

Pandya’s change of pace and array of cutters, especially on surfaces where the ball grips, could be telling come the T20 World Cup.

Thakur: Bit-by-bit becoming a vital cog

How could we mention cutters and not get to this man, eh? But there’s so much more to Shardul Thakur than his cutters – and he’s so much more than the ‘lucky’ bowler many think him to be.

Luck can bring you wickets, sure, even loads of them. But surely not some of the best batsmen in white-ball cricket. Repeatedly.

Thakur finishes the limited overs series against England as the highest wicket-taker across both teams. His 15 wickets? Eoin Morgan thrice, Ben Stokes twice, Jonny Bairstow twice, Jos Buttler twice, Dawid Malan twice, Chris Jordan twice, Liam Livingstone once and Adil Rashid once.

This is so much more than the ‘happy knack’ we keep hearing on commentary. Is he leaky? Yes. Is he streaky? Not one bit.

Add to this, the batting – on display, yet again, in a series-decider – and this is a proper utility player. And those never go out of fashion in limited over internationals.

Bhuvi is back – scream it out loud

Bhuvneshwar Kumar  of India appealing for a wicket of Sam Curran of England during the 3rd One Day International match between India and England held at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Pune, India on the 28th March 2021  Photo by Saikat Das / Sportzpics for BCCI

Bhuvneshwar Kumar picked six wickets in the ODI series against England including three in the third ODI. Sportzpics

Because of all the pieces India are trying to fit to form their white-ball puzzle, this could, arguably, be among the most telling.

The fear, on the back of the injuries that continued to keep him out of the game post 2019, was whether we would ever see that Bhuvneshwar Kumar again. Well, we have.

6/135 in 29 overs – economy rate 4.65 – in a series where runs scored at 6.62 per over. This after the returns of 4/115 at 6.38 in a T20I series where the next-most miserly bowler conceded 6.94 per over, and all others went for at least 7.75 per over.

Swing and shape with the new ball. Sense and skill at the death.

If cricket was fair, and adjudicators looked beyond batters, Kumar should have held two Player-of-the-Series awards.

None of that would matter, of course, if this version of him – back where he belongs, back at his best – stays in shape and India get that dream reunion: Bhuvi and Boom. That might mean trophies of considerably greater note.

Pace stocks keep rising, but where’s the spin?

Prasidh Krishna had the best debut for any male Indian bowler in ODIs, and then bowled that yorker to Jos Buttler in the second game. He went for runs in the third, but that’s a promising start.

T Natarajan’s return to the side might not look great on paper, with figures of 1/73 in his 10 overs in the decider – but of his last 11 balls, he gave away only nine runs, while nailing five yorkers. That continues his own promising start.

You almost tend to forget that India haven’t played with a full-strength pace attack in any format since their return to international cricket after the pandemic-enforced break.

The fast-bowling riches are, as repeatedly pointed out, staggering.

At the same time, this series also represented a drastic fizzling away of spin in ODIs for India. Krunal Pandya and Kuldeep Yadav, between them, took one wicket in 39 overs – and conceded eight runs per over.

No, this wasn’t a one-off.

Since the end of the 2019 World Cup, India’s spinners have taken 33 wickets in 18 matches, averaging 58.63, conceding 6.10 per over, and taking 57.6 balls per wicket. Only Zimbabwe’s spinners have a worse average, only Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe have a worse strike rate, and no one has a worse economy rate.

Long story short, India are the worst-performing spin-bowling unit in ODIs in the last 21 months.

Are we approaching Ashwin time, again?

Updated Date: March 29, 2021 11:17:41 IST

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