India vs England: Two dreamy debuts, two seismic shifts define ODI series-opener

  • Yash Jha
  • March 24th, 2021
  • 9:01:24 IST

In a utopian world, the 50-over game would find itself right at the centre of the two poles that are Test matches and T20s – the perfect exhibit of it would lie somewhere at the intersection of a manic roller-coaster and a tense slow-burner.

Tuesday’s first ODI between India and England wasn’t wildly fluctuating, in that the pendulum didn’t keep swinging from one end to the other; instead, it was a contest defined by strangely seismic shifts.

41 overs into it, India, at 206/5, were desperate for lift-off. It arrived, via Krunal Pandya and KL Rahul, to take the hosts to 317/5.

14.1 overs into the second half, England had flown into orbit – Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow skyrocketing them to 135/0. At the end of their 25th over, the visitors were 176/5.

As per CricViz data, India’s chance of victory went from 47 percent when Krunal joined Rahul in the middle to 71 percent at the end of their innings. By the same model, England’s likelihood of winning went from 85 percent at the end of the Roy-Bairstow partnership to 28 percent come the halfway mark of the chase.

To have had multiple shifts of these proportions in one game… in a year where the focus of the men’s cricket fraternity is sandwiched between the inaugural World Test Championship and the much-awaited T20 World Cup, this was quite the timely rejoinder from the poor old middle sibling.

Thoughts and takeaways from the opening game of the three-match series in Pune, which will mark the conclusion of England’s tour of India.

Dreamy debutants, chapter umpteen-point-0

Shubman Gill and Mohammed Siraj in the MCG Test. Washington Sundar in the Gabba Test. T Natarajan in all three formats during the Australian tour. Axar Patel in the home Tests versus England. Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav in the T20Is. And now Krunal Pandya and Prasidh Krishna in the ODIs.

To think that one of the longstanding pet-peeves of the average Indian fan has been the tendency of opposition debutants to make merry against India!

This staggering run of scintillating performances on their maiden bows by the recent Indian crop isn’t coincidental – it is, as elaborated upon by many ever since the Australian tour, the blossoming of a long-term plan.

It’s the reward of creating structures, and swearing by them, to create a system. A system that pushes out finished products towards the making of a well-oiled machinery.

It takes a finished product to stride out and hammer the fastest 50 by any debutant in an ODI, or the fastest by any Indian in over eight years. It takes a well-oiled newcomer to recover from a 22-run pasting of an over with game-changing strikes in your very next spell.

For India’s sake, long may the dreamy run continue.

That wasn’t good innings construction, India

England were 89 without loss at the end of 10 overs. India had reached the same score at the end of their 21st, for the loss of one wicket.

Agreed, India have had a very different approach to building ODI innings. Also agreed, that this approach has been largely very, very successful. So let’s ignore the comparatively slow-crawl of a start, and jump well forward in the Indian innings.

India were 205/4 after 40 overs, neither alarmingly bad nor astoundingly good. Here’s the problem: 105 runs had been scored in the 17 overs that Virat Kohli (56 off 60 balls) was out in the middle – the remaining 23 overs had only added 100 runs to the Indian scorecard.

Between overs 31-40, India only managed 46 runs, while losing Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan (98 off 106) and Shreyas Iyer.

That limp, from 159/1 in 30 to 205/4 in 40, was the difference between a realistic shot at 330+ and the eventual 317 – which, too, came only on the back of something quite special in the final 10.

On several days, against several opponents, that could be the difference between winning and losing an ODI.

Krunal exceptional, Rahul at #5 extraordinary

KL Rahul and Krunal Pandya shared 112-run partnership for the sixth wicket. Sportzpics

KL Rahul and Krunal Pandya shared 112-run partnership for the sixth wicket. Sportzpics

Your first ODI innings, walking out in the middle of an unexpected collapse, with your team falling well behind the eight-ball… Krunal Pandya’s 26-ball 50 – the fastest by any debutant in the history of ODIs – was exceptional enough just on the situation in which it arrived.

It was also exceptional in terms of self-correction. In the last three editions of the IPL, 11 out of Krunal’s 27 dismissals have come to short-pitched deliveries; England came armed with that information, on the evidence of the areas they targeted when bowling to the debutant.

Sam Curran dug two short balls back-to-back in the first (and only) over he got at Krunal. At his pace, that probably wasn’t the best idea – and Krunal swivel-pulled both for fours that set him on his way. Only two of Tom Curran’s 10 balls to Krunal were pitched within six metres of the batsman’s standing position – and yet, Krunal accrued 18 runs off those 10 balls.

The sternest examination was supposed to come through Mark Wood, with his high-pace – the three of the six legitimate deliveries Wood bowled to Krunal were dug in short, at a pace ranging between 140-147 kmph. Krunal slapped 17 from those six Wood deliveries.

Even outside the sweet elation of a match-turning knock on debut, and the bittersweet emotion that engulfed him as he played it, this tactical win is one for Krunal to savour from his maiden ODI outing.

The axis on which the game turned – the first of the two seismic shifts – was the breathtaking association between Krunal and KL Rahul: 112 undefeated runs from the last 57 balls of the Indian innings.

Sweet as it was for Krunal, imagine the weight lifting of Rahul’s shoulders too – without a game for nearly three months, then four disappointing performances that cost him his place (at least temporarily) in the one format where he was seeming locked in… God knows he needed these runs.

His 43-ball 62* – 46 of the runs coming off the last 20 deliveries he faced – also extended an extraordinary beginning to life as India’s number five in ODIs; in eight innings since the permanent move down the order in early 2020, Rahul has 439 runs at an average of 73.17 and a strike rate of 118.01 – with five 50+ scores.

Bairstow-Roy: Boy, oh boy!

135 runs in 14.2 overs. Most teams would pay big money to get those returns from their openers in T20s. England’s opening combine does it for fun in ODIs.

Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy, since joining forces at the top of the order after the 2017 Champions Trophy, have added 2539 runs in 42 partnerships – at 60.45 runs per stand, and 7.04 runs per over.

For perspective: There’s only one pair in men’s ODI cricket in this time period with a better partnership run rate for any wicket, with a minimum of 500 partnership runs (Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan, at a staggering 8.33 per over, albeit in 10 innings batting together).

For wider perspective: Among opening pairs to have batted together at least 10 times post the 2017 Champions Trophy, only one other partnership has managed to score at even six per over – they (Martin Guptill-Colin Munro), too, are at a distant scoring rate of 6.43 to Bairstow-Roy’s 7.04.

For the full perspective: No pair in the history of ODI cricket, given a minimum of 20 partnerships together, has a better average or a better scoring rate for the opening wicket.

In exactly half their 42 innings opening the batting for England, Bairstow-Roy have provided at least a 50-run stand, and 12 of those 21 partnerships have gone beyond 100. In these 12 century associations, they’ve scored at 7.59 per over.

We are witnessing something well beyond extraordinary.

Prasidh, Thakur and an unreal U-turn

Prasidh Krishna’s first three overs in international cricket had gone for 37 – the third of them for 22, all from the increasingly imperious blade of Bairstow.

The more experienced Shardul Thakur replaced the debutant after that 22-run shellacking, and went on to concede 22 off his first two overs – Bairstow responsible for 21 of those runs.

The Powerplay blunting of pace was immediately followed by an all-out assault on spin that provided an instant recall of that World Cup clash from 2019 (incidentally the last time Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal played a game together for India) – the first five overs of spin that India bowled were taken apart for 57 runs.

Prasidh was brought back sooner than one might have imagined, but the initial attack on his bowling led to an instant pulling back of length – and eight balls into his second spell, the 25-year-old had Jason Roy and Ben Stokes as his first dismissals as an India international.

He should have had a third in the space of nine balls, adding Eoin Morgan to his list, but saw his skipper shell what should have been a regulation take at slip.

Still, Prasidh’s second spell halted at 3-1-9-2 – to give India some respite from the early English blaze. But Bairstow was still around, and Morgan was looking to make Kohli pay. 169/2 in 22 overs – this was still quite the walk in the park for England.

Enter Shardul Thakur. First he snared Bairstow, more the batsman’s doing than his own. And then he did now-customary double-strike – for the third international running. Morgan was bounced and Jos Buttler was trapped in the space of four deliveries.

England had lost 5/41 in the span of 10.5 overs. The game had turned – this time for good.

This ‘approach’ won a World Cup…

"This is the way we play, and this is the way we will continue to play,” Eoin Morgan said after the match. Sportzpics

"This is the way we play, and this is the way we will continue to play,” Eoin Morgan said after the match. Sportzpics

… and you’d imagine those are returns good enough to warrant a lifelong investment. So you’d think one crazy collapse, like the one England endured in Pune, wouldn’t beget debate on their way of playing ODI cricket.

Yet, you had Murali Kartik, during the post-match presentation, asking Eoin Morgan – lest you forget, a World Cup-winning captain in the tenth-from-last ODI he played – if England’s approach required a rethink.

The first part of Morgan’s answer may well be inscribed on the walls of any room housing any aspirant to limited overs success.

“It’s something we pride ourselves on, taking the attack to the opposition, and that’s the way we want to play. White-ball cricket, as a general rule, is always on the upward slant. Scores, total scores, individual scores, strike rates are always increasing… we want to continue to try and push the envelope in that regard, to try and take our game forward, and always look to learn.”

The second part is a lesson in leadership, and principles. “Sometimes that doesn’t work because we don’t get it right, but for us, losing like that is better than losing by 10 or 20 runs playing in a completely different manner that doesn’t suit us. This is the way we play, and this is the way we will continue to play.”

Long may that continue from Morgan and his men, because here’s what Murali Kartik – and all other bad-weather brickbat-carriers – ought to be reminded. This approach didn’t just win a World Cup. Since the end of the 2015 World Cup, England are the only top-10 team with a win-loss ratio better than two.

Generally speaking, if something works two out of three times over a large sample-space, the prudent move is to persist with the move.

Updated Date: March 24, 2021 09:01:24 IST

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