England end India’s unbeaten streak

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30 Jun 2019 | 06:05 PM
authorPrem Panicker

England end India’s unbeaten streak

England stay in hunt for a spot in the semifinals

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An “80 per cent fit” Jason Roy teamed up with Jonny Bairstow to kickstart the England innings; Ben Stokes gave it a finishing kick, and England had too much on the board for an Indian team with a weak underbelly.

England are back in fourth place on the table with 10 points and one game to play. India remain second with 11 – and have two games, against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, to seal its semifinal spot.

Here are the main points from the game:

The Roy Supremacy: If Robert Ludlum were writing this report, that could well be the title, because this England batting performance was about Jason Roy’s return to the top of the order. And on the day, Roy showed why he, even if “only 80% fit”, is better than most batsmen who are 100 per cent.

There is an inevitability to a Roy innings – he never seems to need muscle to power the ball away; he just strokes through the line, but a combination of great eye, brilliant balance, a 360-degree game awareness and fast hands combine to turbo-charge his knocks.

He started off by crashing Mohammed Shami, bowling the third ball of the innings after England had won the toss and opted to bat first on a flat, hard Edgbaston wicket, through point and closed out the over with a fluid drive through the covers. He took on Chahal when the spinner was introduced as early as the 6th over. When Hardik Pandya was brought on in the 11th to provide some cover, Roy launched a fierce attack on India’s fifth bowling option, lofting him over long off for six and through the covers for four. His up-tempo batting meant that within the first dozen overs the Indian bowling, barring Jasprit Bumrah, was already in disarray.

But it was not the numbers – 66 off 57 – that Roy’s innings should be valued at; rather, it is what he did for his partner. Jonny Bairstow, who in the lead up to this game was involved in a tetchy war of words with former England captain Michael Vaughan, looked out of sorts; twice in the first couple of overs he flashed at Shami and under-edged dangerously close to the stumps, and his wicket seemed just one good ball away. Roy steadied Bairstow and allowed him to bat in his slip-stream.

The numbers show that when Roy was finally out, to a stunning outfield catch by Ravindra Jadeja at long on off Kuldeep Chahal, Bairstow with 89 off 76 had outscored his partner, albeit by facing more deliveries. But a different set of numbers tells the story of Roy’s impact on the game. In the 33 deliveries he faced after Roy was dismissed, Bairstow managed just 22 runs. And England’s run rate slipped from 7.47, when Roy was out, to 6.40 when Bairstow, totally becalmed and fidgety, slashed Shami to deep point.

It could all have been so different. Roy pulled at the 5th ball of the 11th over, from Pandya; there was an appeal for caught behind but India – with keeper MS Dhoni making the decisive call – opted not to review. On the replay, it turned out that the ball had flicked Roy’s glove on the way through. Roy was 21 off 25 at that time, and England was 50 off 66 balls. And to think that not so long ago, Dhoni’s expertise led to fans naming it the “Dhoni Referral System”.

As the chart shows, England after Roy was like a suddenly becalmed ship. Root could only nudge and nurdle, Bairstow’s frustrated slice ended his innings of 111, and Morgan was bounced out in quick time. If England made it to 337 – well short of the 350-plus-plus that seemed possible when the hosts brought up their 150 off just 123 balls – it was due to a second consecutive impact innings from Ben Stokes. The all-rounder treated the spinners with supreme contempt (there was a reverse slog sweep off Chahal in the 40th over that defies description); he worked the angles of the field as though he had a protractor embedded in his bat, and he engaged in a battle with Jasprit Bumrah that was among the best passages of play in this World Cup. (For the record, Bumrah won that death battle and ended up with Stokes as his only wicket).

The Indian Implosion: India’s bowling has been the talking point of not just this tournament, but of the last year or so – and spin twins Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have been prominent in this turnaround from a time when the most common complaint was that no matter how good India’s batsmen were, its bowlers lacked the cutting edge.

Here, on a pitch that did offer bounce and some turn, the two spinners came to grief against batsmen – Roy, Bairstow and stokes in particular – who never allowed them to settle. One statistic tells the sorry story: the two spinners, who till now have bossed the middle overs, went for a combined 160 runs in their twenty overs, without ever looking like getting a sniff of a wicket.

Thanks largely to Roy’s fluid belligerence, Hardik Pandya had a tough first couple of overs, going for 21 runs and having to spend time patrolling the outfield till he got his nerve back. But to his credit, the all-rounder came back, sussed out the conditions, and redeemed himself with some controlled bowling, his last eight overs yielding just 31 runs.

Mohammed Shami, as he often does, managed to be both hero and villain on the same day, sometimes in the same over. There was a period of play, between overs 28 and 31, when a combination of Pandya, Chahal and Yadav gave away just 13 off their 24 deliveries. Shamin, coming in on the back of that, took out Bairstow in the 32nd and bounced out Morgan in the 34th, his spell at that point reading 2-1-1-2. He returned at the back end and, with the batsmen looking to go big, took out three more wickets – but his last two overs, the 47th and 49th, were pure dross; he got the wickets of Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes, but against that he conceded 32 runs. Those two ruinous overs undid the brilliance of Bumrah, who in the 46th, 48th and 50th gave away just 16 runs and, in the process, took out the wicket of a frustrated Ben Stokes.

“Brilliance” has been used ad nauseum to describe Bumrah. The bowler, for his part, keeps producing mind-bending displays, as if challenging those who write about him to find new ways to describe that thing he does. Here is what he did: When Roy and Bairstow were accelerating off the blocks, he produced a spell of 4-1-8-0 (the maiden, to Bairstow, a masterclass in tying down an aggressive batsman). He bowled just one over in the middle phase, with Virat Kohli keeping five of his overs for the death.

England was 245/3 at the end of 40 when Bumrah returned to the crease. Bowling five on the trot at the death is never easy; doing that against an England batting side primed to go big is doubly challenging. And yet the quickie with the quixotic action produced a spell of 5-0-26-1. Read that in context: England scored 92 in the last ten; Bumrah gave away 26 of those while his mates bowled five overs for 66 runs. Spend a moment hypothesizing what England’s score would have been without Bumrah and his pinpoint yorkers, and shudder.

Death of the thousand dots: The first step towards solving a problem is accepting that you have one. India has one – its middle order, albeit beefed up for this game by the inclusion of Rishabh Pant for Vijay Shankar.

To cover for this, India has adopted the opening crawl as a tactic, playing within themselves, trying to preserve wickets in the hope that they can “make up” later. And increasingly, this has been fetishized by commentators who talk up this “strategy” and point to India’s success rate. The same commentators, in the very next breath, say India’s recent successes owe to their bowling strength. Cognitive dissonance, much?

Here’s the problem: When the bowlers have an off day – as happened today, and as can happen against good batting sides in the business end of the tournament – this go-slow tactic will hurt the side, bad. As it did here.

Three of the first five overs were maidens. Chris Woakes is a steady, disciplined bowler who hits the channel and moves it away off the seam – but 3-3-0-1? At the start of an innings chasing 338? Woakes is that good? Really?

India played out 163 dot balls against the West Indies and ended with a below par 268/7 against the West Indies earlier this week at Manchester. Here, with the bowlers going the distance and having to pull off a world record chase, they still batted in that same down-tempo fashion. The number to keep an eye on is at the 30-over mark: Of the 180 legitimate deliveries at that point, exactly 100 had not been scored off, and that underscores the biggest issue with the Indian top three: strike rotation, or lack thereof. The last two phases were much better – but by then, there was too much to “make up”.

Here’s are stats worth considering: The 50 of the Virat/Rohit partnership was off 82 balls, of which Virat scored 34 in 46 and Rohit, 16 off 36. The 100 of the partnership came off 124 balls. Virat scored 56 of those off 65. Rohit scored 44 off 59. Here’s the thing: At that point, Rohit had nine fours. In other words, 36 runs came off nine deliveries; the other 50 produced just 8 runs, of which one was a two. Hence the point about strike rotation.

The hare versus the tortoise: That old fable was pretty much the story of the Indian chase; India in the second half of the game started slow, and never really managed to catch up.

After KL Rahul – who injured himself early in the England innings when he tried to take a catch on the line and spent the rest of the innings getting treatment – left without scoring, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma stitched a partnership together, each batting as if on different pitches.

Virat was his usual fluent self, lacing cover drives and targeting the onside with wrists that work like on the ball like a revolving door. Rohit Sharma, in contrast to his norm, was patchy – dreamy drives alternating with uncharacteristically agricultural hoiks during the first half of his innings, several of which he was lucky to see drop between fielders. The two put on 138 for the second wicket, their best phase coming when Adil Rashid and Ben Stokes teamed up with the ball, and together went for 69 runs off just nine overs.

Eoin Morgan was forced to change plans; to the England captain’s good fortune, Plan B worked. He brought back Archer for a brief spell to reel the scoring rate back, and Liam Plunkett to provide the disciplined line and length that is his trademark. That Virat patted an innocuous delivery in the channel straight to backward point was a bonus.

Rohit duly got his century (102 off 109, 15 fours, you do the math), but with the run rate at 10 per over, he needed to kick on. With his timing nowhere close to peak form, easier said than done, and the pressure forced him to play an ugly hoik at Chris Woakes that ended up in the keeper’s gloves.

Worth mentioning, as an aside, is that off just the fourth ball that he faced, Rohit Sharma went for an expansive drive at a quick delivery on length in the channel from Jofra Archer; the movement away found the edge and Joe Root, at second slip, grassed one of the simplest chances a slip fielder would hope to see. Rohit was then four off four balls.

The Pant-Pandya roller-coaster: Rishabh Pant celebrated his World Cup debut by nearly running himself out twice within three balls; he swung at a ball so fiercely that his bat went flying in the region of square leg. But unlike his predecessor, he kept the board ticking from the get go with a combination of deft placements and thumping hits.

Pandya, promoted ahead of MS Dhoni, did the thing he does: his feet parallel parked deep within the crease to set up a stable hitting base, he swung hard through the line, onside or off. Nothing is so indicative of what Pandya is about than the 39th over. Woakes at that point had the scarcely credible analysis of 6-3-14-2. Pandya smashed an on drive and an extra cover drive, then a shot that split long on and deep midwicket – what in the West Indies is called a “no man move” shot, and ended the over with two braces, to square leg and straight past the bowler. 16 runs in that over with minimum of fuss – two more than Woakes had conceded in his previous six.

It was too good to last, though. Pant (32 off 29) flicked the first ball of the 40th over and Woakes, who had just finished a tiring over, raced across to his left from deep square leg, flung himself headlong and held the sort of catch you can see, but you still wouldn’t believe.

By then, England had figured Pandya out. Deep and wide extra cover, deep long off, pace off the ball, line of the fifth and sixth stump, nothing on the stumps. Pandya kept thumping them down the ground, but that line gave him no room to get under and lift. Frustration piled up, and sure enough, Pandya (45 off 33) holed out to long on off Liam Plunkett who, on his comeback to the playing eleven, finished with 3/55.

MS Dhoni, at the other end, swished and nudged and swung, connecting well at times -- but he is not, has not been for a while, the finisher par excellence the world celebrated; the task – 71 from 30 when Pandya was out – was way beyond him, and England shut the game down with ease.

PostScript: Anyone know what Kedar Jadhav’s role in this Indian side is? Despite the wrist spinners taking severe tap, he wasn’t given a single over, even against left-handers. He batted at number seven, and looked all at sea. So what is he, if he is neither a bowling all-rounder or a batting all-rounder?

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