England 149 for 5 (Hales 58*, Bairstow 28, Umesh 2-36) beat India 148 for 5 (Kohli 47, Dhoni 32*, Plunkett 1-17) by five wickets
England swept and swept, first unsuccessfully, then inefficiently, and then decisively enough to outdo India’s spinners and pull the duel their way in a tight finish, where Alex Hales punished Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s lapse in lengths to help them level the series.
Hales’ unbeaten 58 was built during two crucial partnerships. The first one in Eoin Morgan’s company, which began at 44 for 3 after England’s top three, much like India’s top order earlier, couldn’t get them going in pursuit of a conservative, if not below-par target. Once again, it was the two Yadavs who had put England in such a position: Umesh was true to his new-found specialisation of getting wickets in the Powerplay, rattling through the opening stand. Jason Roy was out stabbing at a furious indipper, while Jos Buttler, having been reprieved by Kohli at mid-off, handed the same man a catch two balls later.
Joe Root came in ahead of Hales, at his customary No. 3 position, but that move to give him time up front to settle down didn’t pay off. Once again, it was a wrong’un that accounted for him; this time, it was Yuzvendra Chahal’s and it spun into him and under his sweep to crash into the stumps.
There was more sweeping, and more sweep-induced lbw calls and at one point, it seemed like England’s Merlyn bowling-machine exercise hadn’t changed a lot for them. Morgan in particular was caught flailing about, trying to sweep it on either side of the wicket. He was fortuitous, though, as was Hales, who survived both an lbw appeal and the ensuing review against Kuldeep.
Then, Hales started making contact on the cross-batted hits. Hales found big sixes on either side of long-on with his slog-sweeps as Morgan struggled further, eventually falling to a Hardik Pandya bouncer.
This brought Jonny Bairstow, and England’s second and ultimately decisive partnership, with Hales as the anchor. Bairstow made 28 of the 36 they put up in four overs. Crucially, he took Kuldeep for two sixes in his penultimate over, leaving both captain Kohli and the bowler visibly frustrated. Kuldeep’s lengths and paces were largely defensive after that, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar couldn’t defend 12 in the last over. It was hard enough without the six and four off the first two balls from Hales, the Man of the Match half-centurion who had been considered the starting point of England’s meek surrender in the last match.
Earlier, Morgan had elected to bat and England’s seamers were disciplined in hitting the deck on the shorter side of a good length, a strategy that – in combination with a good mix of varying natural speeds – took the boundaries almost completely out of the equation for an in-form top-three. With hardly anything to drive, India managed only three boundaries in the Powerplay.
But the plan to play four seamers at the expense of Moeen Ali was truly vindicated by the fact that they had dismissed the top three inside the Powerplay. Jake Ball, on debut, followed up a miserly first over by trapping Rohit Sharma under a steep short ball. His sliced pull, trying to make room down the leg side, was matched in technique – or the loss of it – by KL Rahul a few overs later. India’s No. 3, looking to slash Liam Plunkett over cover, lost his middle stump.
In the middle of these wickets was the strange case of Shikhar Dhawan who, while trying to switch his bat to his right hand halfway through a run while seemingly trying to avoid obstructing a Jason Roy throw from point at the non-striker, ended up losing his grip entirely. A tumbling bat’s first contact with the ground was outside the crease and he was caught short by Morgan who had initially forgotten to appeal as he despaired at a fluffed gather.
At 22 for 3, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina, batting in almost alien positions for them in this format, were largely kept to running between the wickets too. If the spinner was the release they were waiting for, Adil Rashid proved to be a downer. Rashid floated his deliveries up, rather than pushing them through as he had done in the previous match, and forced both batsmen to manufacture power on a slow track. The result was a 57-run stand that came at under eight an over. Raina was the more fluent batsman, peaking with a hook shot that went several rows behind at deep square leg, and generally scoring at a good strike rate before he was stumped. Kohli top-scored with 47, but his 38-ball knock provided little by way of momentum.
That came from MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya, who left it late to pummel Ball’s last over – the only one in which not a single ball was of optimal length – for 22. It wasn’t to be the difference.