There are a few days when you lose committing many mistakes, but then there are a few where you are only left to admire the magnanimity and finesse of the opposition. The loss to England for India was no less than learning in itself. India certainly looked a bowler short, even after considering Hardik Pandya who didn’t bowl. Everyone who took up the task of bowling to Bairstow and Stokes was punished and in the end, the 337 run run-chase was made a great mockery of.
Just like the first ODI, the England bowlers began well without giving much to the Indian batsman early on. The new entrant, Reece Topley, also showed great discipline and consistency and was well rewarded with Dhawan’s wicket. Rohit Sharma who looked good while he lasted, was also dismissed flicking one straight to Adil Rashid at short Third. Virat Kohli then found an able aid in KL Rahul as the duo restructured the Indian innings back on track. The two batters managed to rotate the strike well negotiating the difficult part of the innings. However, there were not many big hits scored in the middle overs, that being the prime difference between the two sides. It was only after the arrival of Rishabh Pant that the Indian batsmen let loose. Rahul brought up his 5th ODI century, while Pant in his own element smacked a 40-ball 77. Their performances and a few meaty blows from Hardik towards the end helped India reach 336, a score much better than their last outing but still only a little over par.
A good start was imperative for either team to stand a chance to win this exciting contest. Though the English batsmen were watchful at the start, unlike the Indians, they did not take much time to break the shackles. The loose deliveries were not left unpunished and the Indian bowlers were constantly put under pressure to experiment. The pair literally cruised through the batting powerplay and soon, brought up their second consecutive 100 run partnership of the series. The pair looked seemingly inseparable, if not for the unfortunate mix-up resulting in a run-out. It was around the same time in the last game that the tables had turned, but this time the new No.3 Ben Stokes ensured that the same didn’t repeat.
Bairstow and Stokes, once steady in their approach, pedaled on the accelerator in the middle overs. They took on the two Indian spinners and hit them for a plethora of sixes throughout the games. The pace bowlers coming in for short spells were also punished equally as the duo took control of the situation. While the two batted together, it almost seemed like even 400 could have been a possible run-chase. Bairstow brought his 11th ODI hundred in the 31st over and Stokes followed him to his fifty in the next. It was then that Stokes decided to go all out in one of ODI cricket’s most aggressive period of batting display ever. In the next 13 deliveries, Ben Stokes went on to score 49 runs hitting 2 fours and 6 sixes. There was a phase where the two together score 87 in just 4 overs. Anything and everything that was bowled to the pair went beyond the boundaries and the target looked more realistic than ever before. Ironically enough, Ben Stokes could not finish his job as he was caught down the leg in an attempted pull shot on 99. Bairstow followed him in the immediate next over, and so did the skipper Jos Buttler, who did not trouble the scorers.
There was a glimpse of hope for the Indians but the damage had already been done. With the required rate less than 3, the longish England batting order was too good to miss out on the target. A few big T20-like hits from Livingstone made the task, even more, easier as England chased down the target with more than 6 overs to spare. It was England’s highest ever run-chase against India and perhaps the most heartening one ever. There was only a little that India could have done to stop the mayhem. The Indian skipper Virat Kohli himself exclaimed in the presentation, “We started off well with the new ball, with our lines and lengths but England found a way to hang on and got a century partnership. We did falter a bit at times but mostly, that was some of the best hittings that you’ll ever see. We never had a chance during their partnership (Stokes-Bairstow), that’s how good they were.”
That passage of play from johnny Bairstow and @benstokes38 was simply insane 😮😮😮🏏
— Graeme Swann (@Swannyg66) March 26, 2021
Ben Stokes on the other hand said that his team was quite confident of pulling off the run-chase given the number of high-scoring thrillers their team has been part of in recent times. He said, “Great chase, really happy that we managed to get over the line quite easily especially when India set a challenging total. Over the years, we have set big totals, we have chased big totals. We don’t really fear too much to be honest. We go out and always try and play as positively as we can. If we ever feel like we are stuck in a situation, we always encourage our players to take the positive option.”
What this impeccable run-chase also does is pushes the series onto a decider on Sunday. The teams remain inseparable on paper and it will all depend on who starts and finishes the game well in the decider. This England Tour of India has been no short of joy and entertainment and if not anything, it promises to end on a similar note on Sunday.