England at Kanpur's Green Park on Thursday looked the team that they haven't been in the entire tour so far. It was almost starting to be taken for granted that the visitors would show up again, huff and puff on the field, and leave as the vanquished. That had been the story in the Tests and indeed the first two ODIs, until the narrow win in the final ODI in Kolkata.
On Thursday, the visitors not only beat India in the first T20 of the series, but did it with such comprehensiveness that you may struggle to believe Virat Kohli and Co's overwhelming dominance in the earlier matches. The Kanpur T20 has rendered some balance to the India vs England contests, finally!
It was as complete a performance as it gets by the England team, first restricting India to a score that was way below par and then rattling off the runs with plenty to spare. The Indian batsmen could never get going on what was believed to be a batting pitch, ending up with an unimpressive 147/7 in their 20 overs. There were no partnership of note, nor a lot of stroke play, but frankly, it was more owing to the disciplined bowling by the visitors than the hosts' ineptitude.
Of course, the off-form of KL Rahul added to India's woes as did Yuvraj Singh getting stuck. Since his near double hundred in the fifth Test at Chennai last month, Rahul has had a torrid time. Scores of eight, five and 11 in the ODIs, have now been followed by an eight in the first T20.
It meant that India's opening problems in limited overs continued. It also strengthens the argument in favour of including the hard-hitting wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant in the starting XI as an opener. He had proven his credentials in domestic cricket and in the U-19 World Cup last year and could be tried out in place of the struggling Rahul in the next match of the series in Nagpur.
Kohli opening the innings was the right move considering that the best batsman of the side should get the opportunity to play the most number of balls, especially when it is the short, 20-over format. He had opened for the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the Indian Premier League (IPL) to good effect and a lot was riding on him giving India a good start.
The Indian captain started in customary fashion, cutting one to the fence and then getting another boundary, this time at long on. Then there were two back-to-back boundaries off Liam Plunkett, but he was soon prised out by Moeen Ali. A 26-ball 29 in the end can't be called very Kohli-like.
Yuvraj also failed to get any real momentum in his innings, and contributed only 12 runs at less than run-a-ball. But then, if England could keep Kohli quiet, they could keep anybody quiet. It showed that Morgan's men were on the top of their game in Kanpur on Thursday.
The England spinners' performance left a lot to be desired in the Tests as wells as the ODIs and even Test captain Alastair Cook acknowledged that Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid were not in the same league as Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar. Moeen made amends in Kanpur, with match-winning figures of 2/21 in his allotted four overs.
Comeback man Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni hit knocks of 34 (23) and 36* (27) respectively, but the powerful Indian batting line-up was just not allowed to get away and there was a slim chance that they would have challenged the Englishmen with a score of under 150.
And when Sam Billings tore into Jasprit Bumrah in the very second over of the innings, smashing him for 20 runs, including a six and three boundaries, you knew it was going to be difficult for the Indians.
Leg-break bowler Yuzvendra Chahal, playing only his fourth T20I, then gave the home crowd something to cheer about by dismissing both openers – Jason Roy and Billings – in his first over itself. He has bright prospects and bowled with a lot of heart and guile, and got a bit of drift as well.
Billings' departure brought the England captain Eoin Morgan to the crease. England were 43/2 in the fourth over, going at over 10 an over. The best way India could come back into the match was by taking wickets at regular intervals. But Morgan and Joe Root – two of the most experienced players in the England squad – ensured that there were no tense moments, stringing together an 83-run partnership, which in the context of the match dealt a killer blow to any hope India would have had.
Morgan, who was under the cosh a bit before the start of the limited-overs series against India, owing to his patchy international form, found his feet during the run chase in the second ODI in Cuttack. A scintillating 81-ball 102 nearly snatched the game away from India, and threatened to steal the thunder of Yuvraj and Dhoni, who had wowed the cricket romantics with twin centuries. Morgan continued his new-found touch in the next match at the Eden Gardens and then on again Thursday, scoring 51 off 38 balls.
He went inside out to hit Parvez Rasool to the extra cover fence, and then slog swept Chahal into the stands with disdain. Morgan had shown during the one-dayers that he favours the area between long-on and deep mid-wicket, and did so in Kanpur as well. He brought up his fifty with a six off Rasool, but holed out on the next ball.
What summed up a poor day in the office for India was Bumrah shattering Root's stumps, but having to forgo the wicket having overstepped the crease. This is starting to become a habit with Bumrah, as he had had to forgo a wicket in the last match (the third ODI in Kolkata) as well, when he had Jonny Bairstow caught off a no-ball.
On Thursday, an England win was almost a foregone conclusion when he had Root bowled off a no-ball, as it was the 17th over of the innings and England didn't need much to get. But there will be more crucial occasions when a match is in the balance, and if he doesn't address this tendency to overstep quickly, it may cost his team big time. India will remember well how no balls by Ravichandran Ashwin and Hardik Pandya allowed Lendl Simmons escape dismissals and take the West Indies to the 2016 World T20 final at the cost of the hosts.
The England captain Morgan pointed out that it was a "pretty complete performance" by his team. Kohli, on the other hand, looked sombre as the England batsmen were blazing away, and that is something the Indian cricket fan has not been used to in recent times.
India have been unbeaten in 19 matches (seven ODIs and 12 Tests) at home under Kohli and now suddenly they have lost two matches on the trot. While the loss in the third ODI of the series in Kolkata was by a narrow margin, India were completely outplayed in the first T20 on Thursday. This was India's sixth T20 loss to England, which is more than against any other side in the shortest format of the game.
Can they come back with a vengeance in the next T20 at Nagpur? The hosts will have to show immense character to bounce back from a big setback as the one in Kanpur. Doing so will further establish the credentials of Kohli's team as a real world-beater. England have put the high-flying hosts in an unfamiliar unease and for the first time in the tour, it is India who will have to play catch up. How Kohli and Co react will be interesting to see.
Updated Date: Jan 29, 2017 01:17:35 IST