India vs England was touted to be one of the most exciting T20I series this year with the two top-ranked sides battling it out to showcase their supremacy. The series lived up to its billing and produced some blockbuster cricket as it went down the wire before India won the final T20I to clinch the series 3-2 and break England's eight-series unbeaten run.
This series provided a platform for both teams to build further with T20 World Cup on the horizon. For India, the series provided a launchpad for the youngsters, newcomers and comeback men to stake a claim amidst intense competition for the mega event in October also allowing Kohli and Co to experiment with their combinations. There were plenty of positives for the home side while some questions remained unanswered. Here are the takeaways for India from the T20I series.
Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan had received their maiden international call-ups to the national side after consistent performances in the domestic circuit and the Indian Premier League (IPL).
They carried forward that good work in the international arena and started off in style. It was surprising to see Kishan walk out to bat with KL Rahul in the second T20I as he was expected to be a back-up to Rishabh Pant. However, with India looking to experiment, the Jharkhand wicket-keeper got a chance and he made sure he grabbed it with both hands with a blistering half-century on debut.
His fearless approach caught the eye along with his quintessential slog sweeps as despite losing his opening partner Rahul in the first over (which was a wicket maiden), he launched a counter-attack to hammer five fours and four sixes on his way to 32-ball 56. En route, he stitched a crucial 94-run stand with Kohli off just 56 balls and helped India chase down 166, earning him the man of the match award. He was pushed to No 3 in the third T20I with Rohit Sharma coming back and could manage just four before missing the fourth match due to an injury. However, that start was impressive and he's managed to put his name in the hat for second opener's slot.
Suryakumar Yadav, on the other hand, started off with a few jitters on the field, misjudging a catch of Bairstow on his debut in the second T20I and then finally holding on to a juggling catch of the same batsman three deliveries later. He didn't get to bat in that match and was dropped for the third match before being called back for fourth. There were no nerves on the 22-yard strip though as he smashed his first ball in international cricket for a six off a powerful pull off Jofra Archer. It set the tone and then he played some classical strokes to put England under the pump. He has the ability to accelerate at will and maintain the momentum through the middle overs and is one of the best players of spin bowling. He took Adil Rashid for 37 from 13 balls in the series. His intelligence stood out with his placement as he found gaps with precision on his way to 57 off 31 balls. And in the next match, he went berserk right from the get-go hitting 32 off 17 balls. He has been the third-highest run-getter (752 runs) in the middle overs in the IPL since 2018 and possesses a decent strike rate of 122.8 in that phase. This is what makes him an exciting prospect in that batting order where India need an aggressor in the middle overs.
Kolhi was mighty impressed with the Mumbai batsman after the fourth T20I.
“Special mention to Surya, he batted outstandingly well in his first game. Similar to Ishan," Kohli said. "Playing at this level with top-quality bowlers who bowl at pace, it's not easy to just walk in at three in your first game and start off like that firstly. It was outstanding and we quite stunned with that start. He completely stamped his authority from ball one and then the bowlers were under pressure throughout. The way he played the leggie as well and just manoeuvred the bowlers beautifully, it put us in a great position and allowed the likes of Shreyas, Hardik and Pant to do their job that they do and get us to that total eventually."
Surya and Kishan epitomise the new aggressive brand of cricket Kohli spoke about ahead of the series. And the players' success bodes well for team's approach going forward.
Comeback men shine
Not just the debutants, the comeback men were also in focus. Rishabh Pant made his way back into the white-ball team following stupendous performances in Australia and England Test series. Ever since that performance Down Under, he's been highly talked of and he's worked hard on his batting, fitness and wicket-keeping to reinvigorate himself.
The Delhi boy has had the performance to show along with his talent and it wasn't a surprise that the team management rated him highly. He was promoted ahead of Shreyas Iyer and while he didn't have the fifties or hundreds to show, he did make an impact with his fearless approach. In the first T20I he arrived at the crease with India reduced to 3/2 and hit his third ball for a four to get off the mark before reverse scooping a fire-breathing Jofra Archer for a six and flicking the next one for a four, in the next over. That confidence in his batting was palpable. He played cameos (21, 26, 25, 30 ) which included some impressive strokes but the one thing he would have liked to do was to convert the starts. He batted at four and five in the series, it was a sign that the management might want him to bat up the order. Pant is a game-changer and that's why he is so crucial for India's chances in the T20 World Cup.
Another player making his comeback was Bhuvneshwar Kumar. He hadn't played international cricket for about 15 months and was coming back from an injury. He was spearheading the attack in absence of Jasprit Bumrah. And he got into the groove early. His accuracy and variations stood out. And while he wasn't picking up heaps of wickets, he kept the batsmen in check in the powerplay and death overs phases. He bowled the match-turning over in the final T20I, giving away just three runs and picking up the wicket of the set Buttler (52) to break the 132-run stand. While every bowler went over seven an over, Bhuvneshwar's economy column read 3.75 with figures of 4-0-15-2. He bowled 17 dots in the match and 45 (56.5 percent) in the series. The senior pacer finished as the most economical bowler with an economy rate of 6.38.
Hardik Pandya the bowler crucial for India
Hardik Pandya the batsman has taken his game to another level with his improved power-hitting. And now Hardik Pandya the bowler has started to become a vital cog in this Indian team. Consistent injuries have forced Kohli to manage Pandya carefully in international cricket which has meant that he's played as a pure batsman in recent times. The Baroda all-rounder getting back to full fitness is a huge shot in the arm for India as he allows the team to play an extra batsman without the need of a sixth bowler.
Pandya's versatility gives the team lots of options. He can bowl in the middle, at the death and with the new ball as well. Kohli surprisingly handed him the new ball in the fourth T20I and he kept a tight leash on the batsmen giving away just five runs from two overs in the powerplay. He came back in the ninth over to remove the set Jason Roy, giving away just six runs. And then he bowled at a crucial juncture with 39 needed off 18 balls to give away just six runs and picking up the important wicket of Sam Curran. In a match where 362 runs were scored, Pandya finished with figures of 4-0-16-2.
In the final T20I, he went for runs in his first two overs but bounced back hard to choke the run-flow and build the pressure by giving away just eight runs in his next two overs and also picking up the wicket of Eoin Morgan to derail England's innings after Bhuvneshwar had sparked a turnaround.
His pace variations has been one of the lethal weapons in his arsenal. He's worked hard on it and those slower bouncers have been utilised to good effect on slower pitches. In this series, he finished as the second-most economical bowler with an economy rate of 6.94.
Kohli asserted the importance of Pandya the bowler: “I am happier for Hardik bowling those four overs in the way he bowled. It's something that augers really well for us if he can continue his bowling form like that in any format of the game, we become a very very strong unit."
Generally while playing on Indian surfaces, you expect the spinners to play a major role. Over the years, the Indian spinners have been lethal at home in all the formats. However, against England, they had a relatively poor series. They averaged 38.77 and gave away runs at 9.30 per over. Quite often they released the pressure valve. They didn't purchase too much spin from the wicket and struggled to find the right lengths. Either they bowled them in the slot or a tad short.
The English batsmen deserve credit as they made it difficult for the spinners to settle down. They attacked spin right from the word go and used their feet consistently. They also disturbed their lines and lengths by constantly employing sweeps and reverse sweeps and hit across the line. The Indian spinners couldn't adapt. Chahal, who has been one of the best in the world in this format, finished with an average of 39.66 and went at 9.91 runs an over. Washington Sundar averaged 34.50 and went at 8.90 runs per over while Rahul Chahar went for 9.71 runs an over, with an average of 34.
The pacers outperformed the spinners, picking up more wickets (16 compared to nine), averaging 27.50 and having an economy rate of 7.81. They struck every 21.1 balls compared to 25 by spinners.
Since India's unbeaten run started (3 August 2019), the Indian pacers have outbowled the spinners. The pacers have had the third-best average, strike rate and economy rate (among Test playing nations) – 24.12, 18.3 and 7.88 respectively. The spinners in this span (eight series) have averaged 35.28 with a strike rate of 25.9 and an economy rate of 8.16. On Indian soil too, the pacers show better numbers in this period, averaging 23.43 and striking every 17.9 balls with an economy rate of 7.83 while the spinners average 38.57 with a strike rate of 26.8 and economy rate of 8.61.
India will need their spinners to step up because those middle overs are going to be crucial at the T20 World Cup.
KL Rahul struggles as India's opening jigsaw still remains unsolved
The Indian team management rates KL Rahul very highly. He didn't have the best of times in the T20I series. After scores of 1,0,0 in the first three T20Is, there was pressure on him with the competition for the second opener's slot heating up. Despite the low string of scores, batting coach Vikram Rathour backed the Karnataka batsman to the hilt saying that he's India's best batsman in T20s.
"Anybody can have a lean phase and KL has been our best batsman in the T20 format. He is averaging 40 plus with a strike rate of 145 and three failures doesn't change the fact that he is the best batsman we have in this format," Rathour said.
"This is the time when we need to support him and I am absolutely sure he will come back out of the lean phase."
However, while he moved off the binary numbers in the next match, Rahul could manage just 14. Taking his tally to 15 from four matches.
He didn't find a place in the eleven for the final game as Kohli brought in an extra bowler in T Natarajan to improve the balance of the squad. Which meant that Kohli pushed himself up the order to open with Rohit. The pair stitched a 94-run stand with Kohli scoring an unbeaten 80 off 52 balls.
Yes, Rahul has been one of India's best in the T20 format. In the last two years (Since 1 January 2019), Rahul has been the second-highest run-getter for India after Kohli with 775 runs from 23 innings at 36.90 and strike rate of 136.44. However, with the emergence of Ishan Kishan, Dhawan's experience and good record in ICC tournaments, and the need to find right the balance, the pressure is increasing on Rahul. Kohli opening the batting allows them to play Suryakumar at number three. Kohli likes playing the anchor role and if he bats deep, it will others around him to take an aggressive route.
Kohli has opened just eight times in T20Is for India averaging 39.71 and striking at 148.66 and he has impressive numbers opening in the IPL as well, averaging 47.86 and possessing a strike-rate of 140.17. With that performance in the final T20I, India might have inadvertently found a solution to the opening conundrum. Kohli said that he will be opening in the IPL and would like to open with Rohit going forward.
Rohit said that it's still early days to talk about how the batting line-up will look like in the T20 World Cup and that Rahul is still in contention.
"KL has been one our key players in limited overs, especially in this format. Looking at current form, the team management decided to go with the best 11. Having said that, it doesn't send any signal that KL will not be considered or anything like that. This was just for one particular game. Things might change as we go closer to World Cup," Rohit said.
Does Rahul deserve to get dropped after just one poor series? What if Kohli the opener doesn't fire in the IPL? What if KL Rahul ends up having another brilliant IPL opening the batting for Punjab Kings?
With the experimentation going on in full swing in the T20I series, India may have a slight hint but still do not have found a definitive answer for the opening conundrum.
Shardul Thakur making his case stronger
Shardul Thakur delivered match-turning performances in the series. He struck at crucial junctures which proved to be the difference. In the fourth T20I, he turned the match around with two wickets in two balls — Stokes and Morgan — in the 17th over, giving away just seven runs. While it appeared that nerves got the better for him in the final over, he still managed to defend 23 runs.
And while Bhuvneshwar provided the impact over in the final T20I to spark a turnaround. Thakur magnified that impact with two wickets in the over — Bairstow and the set Malan — to pull the match further away from England.
Throughout the series, he used the off cutters — nearly off spinners — and knuckle ball cleverly. It was tough in the fourth T20I with a lot of dew around and he utilised the cutters off the softer ball and then when the ball was changed, he employed knuckle balls off the harder ball. He finished as the highest wicket-taker in the series with eight wickets. He has the tendency to go for runs, but he can change the match around with his partnership-breaking abilities.
The fact that he can be more than handy with the bat makes his case even stronger. His batting strike-rate currently in T20Is (21 matches) is 197.14. He has the ability to finish off matches.
The pace department is heavily stacked. When Bumrah and Mohammed Shami return, it will be a tough call for Kohli and Co on who to leave out.
Experiments galore showcases bench strength and selection headaches
India wanted to change their approach — from a relatively conservative one to a more fearless. So they added flamboyance to the squad in form of Kishan, Pant, Suryakumar, Axar, Rahul Tewatia. This was one of the most exciting and strongest squad in recent years. One which could have produced two competitive teams. It had a good mix of youth and experience. And with the T20 World Cup six months away, India were not afraid to experiment. In the past, India used to experiment mostly when they had wrapped up the series early. But in Ahmedabad, it started from the first match itself as Kohli sprung surprise by informing at the toss that Rohit will be rested for the first two matches. He included two debutants – Suryakumar and Kishan in the second match. With Rohit coming back, he tried Kishan at number three in the third T20I. In the fourth match, he benched his premier spinner Chahal to give a chance to Rahul Chahar. And in the final T20I, he brought in Natarajan and pushed himself to open by dropping Rahul.
India used 16 players in this series, the most they have used in any series.
And that bench strength also showed. Kishan grabbed his chance and so did Suryakumar Yadav. Shardul and Bhuvneshwar Kumar stepped up in absence of Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. Shreyas Iyer had been moved from his No 4 position, further down, and he adapted and performed. India had enough cover for the out-of-form, rested and injured players.
It has provided them with a selection dilemma as well. Who will open? Who will bat at No 3? Can Suryakumar Yadav and Shreyas Iyer both make it to the eleven? Who misses out when Bumrah comes back and maybe Mohammed Shami too. Navdeep Saini and Deepak Chahar are also waiting in the wings.
"A big credit to these youngsters, they are coming in and grabbing the opportunity and that's something I am a big fan of," Kohli said after fourth T20I. "You know in first few opportunities you make your mark and then you set your standards high and then you help Indian cricket along the way. I think it's great signs for the team."
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