The cliffhanger of a match on Sunday between India and England at the Eden Gardens was in more ways than one, a perfect conclusion to what turned out to be a keenly-contested series between the two sides.
In a tour that had seen them get walloped in the longer format, England fought like a rejuvenated unit in the one-dayers, in true spirit of their resurgence under the captaincy of Eoin Morgan. They made the hosts fight for every run and wicket throughout, and the first two games could have gone their way, had it not been for some brilliant Indian individual performances.
Even though they had to contend themselves with a consolatory win, it could not have occurred at a better place — at the mecca of Indian cricket, the Eden Gardens. A venue where they had suffered one of the most shattering losses in their history. What was even more fitting about the victory was the fact that a certain Ben Stokes — the same all-rounder who had conceded four sixes in the final over to witness the glittering World T20 trophy slip out of their hands like an eel — was instrumental in setting up the victory for the visitors.
Even though the Virat Kohli-led Indians, who are perhaps adjusting to the change of leadership in the limited-overs formats since the stepping down of MS Dhoni, could not savour the satisfaction of completing a whitewash, they have had plenty of takeaways from the three games that they just played, more so because these happen to be the only 50-over international contests that they will be playing till their defence of the Champions Trophy begins this summer, this time at Eoin Morgan and company's backyard.
If there is anyone who got showered with the most praise this series, whether from captain Kohli or from the fans, it was Kedar Jadhav. While the all-rounder from Pune showed sparks of brilliance in the ODIs against New Zealand in October last year, it was this series in which he produced a magnificent, match-winning century and a brave 90 that has perhaps sealed his spot in the side, keeping in mind the bigger assignments that lay ahead.
The other major talking point from the Indian perspective in this series was the resurgence of old warhorses in Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh, with the two batting in full flow, producing an epic 256-run stand that helped prevent the hosts from getting bowled out for a sub-par total in the second match.
"My aim was to not to hit the ball in the air until we form a steady partnership, Mahi’s aim was more to stay at the crease. We understand our goals really well and it worked for us," Yuvraj was quoted as saying after the match, summing up the deep understanding that was there between them at the crease during a volatile situation.
While Dhoni needed a century to re-establish himself as someone who could bat freely without the burden of captaincy, it was Yuvraj who made an monumental comeback into the national team after nearly kissing his international career goodbye at one stage. Swinging his bat for a pull shot over midwicket just like the good old days, he went on to notch up his highest-ever ODI innings score, one that not only made him emotional upon reaching the three-figure mark, but even made his father Yograj forgive his mortal enemy in Dhoni, whose he believed was the primary reason for his son's downfall in the first place. On a serious note though, the return of the two to form bodes well for the rest of the Indian middle-order.
Speaking of middle-order, Hardik Pandya was turned out to be another gem for the hosts. In a series in which the bowlers were taken to the cleaners, with a total of 2,090 runs being scored, Pandya stood out as the second-highest wicket-taker among both sides. However, it was his impact with the bat, especially the quick runs that he accumulated that brought up his maiden half-century, that turned out to be his x-factor. Not to mention the support that he got down the order from Ravindra Jadeja that helped take the pressure off his back.
Jadeja did get quick runs down the order, as did he get useful, wicket-taking spells that made life uneasy for the opposition batsmen in the middle stages of an innings. Both him and Ashwin, who have been the destructive spin twins that have made the lives of visiting teams to India a nightmare, got breakthroughs at key stages to pull the momentum back in the hosts' favour after an onslaught by the English top-order.
Jadeja's figures of 1-45 from 10 overs at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack unsettled the opponents' in their run-chase, that helped Bhuvneshwar Kumar produce some fantastic death bowling to seal off a narrow win. Bhuvneshwar's death-bowling and his ability to get movement along both ways was something that was noteworthy, and should work wonders in India's favour in the coming tournaments if he is able to maintain his fitness and rhythm
The fact that Kohli produced a century and a half-century, continuing in the same rich vein of form that saw him light up the previous year with his MRF-labelled bat, is hardly something that one would jot down as a highlight, such a run-of-the-mill event it has become. He will however, be disappointed with the lone low score (that gave Yuvraj and Dhoni the opportunity to shine), as well as his inability to pull a successful chase off in Kolkata, and will likely return with vengeance in the next set of assignments.
Among the disappointments, however, was the opening combination, which failed to get the hosts going in any of the matches. Shikhar Dhawan looked woefully out of touch in either innings, as did KL Rahul, although only one of them enjoy the backing of selectors after a successful recent run. Ajinkya Rahane failed as well, as he was deceived by a David Willey inswinger in the only opportunity that he got in the series, and will bank on the next chance that he gets to get back among the runs, and throw the monkey off his back.
Jasprit Bumrah, who has been something of a death-overs specialist for the Indians ever since making his big debut in the tour of Australia last year, was perhaps belted around the ground the most among all bowlers. The Mumbai Indians discovery had a hard time gripping the ball in dewy conditions, conceding quite a few no-balls in the process, and could not get much purchase at the Eden Gardens pitch where Ben Stokes and Jake Ball were among the wicket-takers.
Even though there are not any one-dayers for India to play before the big event that takes place in England later this year, the Indian selectors would have got a fair picture of what their squad is going to look like by now. Even though the overseas commitment will be a different ball-game altogether, and perhaps captain Kohli's first big hurdle as captain across formats, the intent and character (oft-used words to describe the current lot) that they have shown presents a picture that is largely pretty to look at.
Few creases are there to be ironed out, which the think-tank perhaps will only be able to take a call on in the T20I series between the two sides that starts on the Indian Republic Day.
Updated Date: Jan 24, 2017 09:43 AM