India vs England: Virat Kohli’s wasted masterclass emblematic of hosts' reliance on individual brilliance

  • Chetan Narula
  • March 17th, 2021
  • 10:35:59 IST

First things first, toss is having a massive say on the outcome of this T20I series in Ahmedabad, more so with factors such as the abrasive nature of pitches and dew coming into play one by one. In all three matches so far, the side batting first has struggled and the team chasing has found batting relatively easier.

Does it reflect poorly on this series, then? From an outcome, short-term point of view, maybe yes, because the next two T20Is have now been reduced to a toss lottery. Both sides want to win – get one over a World Cup contender to boost morale – and both captains will surely look to bowl first if they win the tosses on Thursday and Saturday.

From a long-term, T20 World Cup perspective, this may not be such a bad thing. England’s purpose of playing an extended five-match T20I series (at the expense of a Test) was to ascertain conditions that will be on offer later in October-November. As seen from their approach in the recently concluded Test series, the shortest format is their number one priority at present.

If Eoin Morgan wants to become the first captain to hold the ODI and T20I crowns simultaneously, then on current evidence, this English side does look the part. Much of it has been on display in the past three games, and despite their loss on Sunday, Tuesday evening proved to be a reversal in fortunes. It is not in the results though, that we find this certainty about their game.

England have approached this bilateral T20I series with a well-thought-out strategy. They have a response to everything India have thrown at them – mostly it has worked, and occasionally it hasn’t, like their failure against the slower ball and variation of pace in the second T20I. Even so, it is reflective of their overall approach – and preparation – to this shortest format.

It is amply notable in the past three games. Firstly, they have only played with one spinner in all matches thus far, and Adil Rashid has not even bowled his full quota of overs (11 out of 12 possible). When was the last time a travelling side deployed such a ploy on Indian soil? Further, it is discernable that they have found an alternate approach in pace. Jofra Archer and Mark Wood have exploited the hardness of new ball in the powerplay overs, and the Indian top-order has struggled on all three occasions.

At some point, they would want to experiment and bring in the second spinner, most likely for Sam Curran. Even then, their strategy will be on point because it wouldn’t affect their batting plans. Consider this – their team management has seen in the IPL what Jos Buttler is capable of doing on these surfaces and he has been duly promoted as T20 opener ahead of Jonny Bairstow, who has had previous success with Jason Roy.

With scores of 28, 0, and 83*, Buttler has proven this move, and his knock on Tuesday night underlined England’s approach to this series. Chasing a tricky 157-run target, he launched a calculated attack on Indian spin options, especially Yuzvdendra Chahal, and hit them out of the park. Under lights, and with dew around, the slow-ball tactic isn’t as effective and a settled Buttler outdid the Indian bowling with consummate ease.

Buttler’s knock proved the efficacy of this English batting line-up. They have one accumulating pivot in Dawid Malan, should things go awry. Ben Stokes is the anchor while Morgan is the designated finisher, with Roy, Buttler, and Bairstow given the license to just go for it. Consistency is key herein – England will play more T20Is before the T20 World Cup, but only these five on Indian soil. This is their first-choice batting line-up and they have not budged from their A-plan.

Jos Buttler led England's charge with an unbeaten half century in the third T20!. Image: Sportzpics

Jos Buttler led England's charge with an unbeaten half century in the third T20!. Image: Sportzpics

Compare this with what India have done, or are doing, and this series comes across as a hotbed for experimentation. The Men in Blue still have a few T20Is to spare (plus the IPL), and yet, the basic blueprint seems missing. Six months out from the World Cup, shouldn’t there be a semblance of consistency in their batting (or bowling) approach? Shouldn’t the Indian think-tank know what their first-choice playing eleven is?

Instead, the Indian batting line-up is still groping with what approach works best for them. Whether it is the top-order or the middle, there is confusion in the ranks with no particular batsmen really aware of what their role is. Like England, can the Indian think-tank answer who their enforcers are? KL Rahul is out of form, Ishan Kishan has just arrived on the scene and Rohit Sharma was rested – there goes your top-order.

Can the Indian team answer who their designated finisher is? Maybe Hardik Pandya? What role is assigned to Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer then, as the duo seems to be batting in a reversed order? Surely you can only pick 11 players, but what happens to experimentation when Surya Kumar Yadav is left out without facing a ball in the previous game? The same logic applies to the bowling – India are playing a bowler short in the pace department, their proven formula, despite Pandya starting to contribute with the ball.

It has led to an organised chaos in the Indian ranks, an unhealthy one with the timer counting down to the World Cup. Consequentially then, India seem to be relying on individual brilliance, as seen in the previous games, and even that didn’t work out on Tuesday evening. Nine times out of ten, that Virat Kohli knock would have been sufficient to force a win, but not when faced with a well-drilled English side.

While he got back in form on Sunday night, this display in the third T20I was more akin to what Kohli had been doing before the pandemic broke out. It was in the 2019-20 season that Kohli started making up for the lost time in the latter half of his knocks. After crossing the 35-40 mark, his strike rate simply rocketed, in keeping with the overall aggressive approach of the Indian line-up.

77* off 46 balls, thus, turned out to be a replication of that strategy. In those last four overs, his ability to hit the ball was simply astonishing. His footwork was light, and he danced all around the wicket, manufacturing the field for optimal potency of his shots. Most of all, Kohli’s anticipation was on point – he could simply judge the ball before it left the hand and thus play a high-impact shot.

A set Kohli is a boon for India in death overs, and his success will re-open the debate about his best batting position. From an Indian perspective, selection or strategy debate is the last thing they need at present with the series now on-the-line, let alone with the T20 World Cup in sight.

Updated Date: March 17, 2021 10:35:59 IST

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