Kohli, Bhuvi lead the way as India seal T20 series
- Skipper hit 80* opening the batting with Rohit Sharma before Bhuvneshwar Kumar applied the brake on England’s chase to seal victory in the T20 series decider.
If saving the best for the final contest is an art, India can claim to be its masters. They showed that in Brisbane against Australia in Tests, and did that against England in the grand finale of the T20I series here on Saturday.
It was a night when batsmen of both the teams made bold statements, but India’s rang much louder. It paved the way for a 36-run win and a 3-2 series victory, having trailed 1-2.
The home batsmen led by skipper Virat Kohli’s unbeaten 80 subdued the England bowlers as they notched their highest T20I score against England, scoring 224/2 in 20 overs.
If one thought the job was done, then Jos Buttler (52, 34b) and Dawid Malan (68, 46b) were on a mission to prove them wrong. They added 130 off 75 balls for the second wicket and threatened to make a joke of India’s bowling.
Amidst such a thriller, it can be tough to keep calm. It showed when Buttler, after he was caught by Hardik Pandya on the boundary off Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and an animated Kohli exchanged words as the batsman was walking off. England’s intensity too left the field with Buttler as they could ultimately manage only 188/8 in 20 overs.
Indian openers have provided a major talking point throughout the five-match series. It was no different in the decider. In Rohit Sharma and Kohli India had a fourth opening combination in the series. After the failed pairing, this one brought cheers in the home team dugout.
Sharma dealt in sixes as India reached 60/0 in six overs– their highest powerplay score in the series. He reached the half-century mark in 30 balls while Kohli took 36 deliveries. Their opening stand was worth 94 (56b). Suryakumar Yadav (32, 17b) and Hardik Pandya (39, 17b) played the perfect support cast.
This is not the first time Kohli has opened for India in T20s. Before Saturday, he had started the proceedings seven times, with 70 (vs New Zealand) being his highest score. But that was back in 2012, and the only time he scored a half-century as an opener. The last time Kohli played as an opener was in June, 2018 (vs Ireland).
By the time the fifth T20I against England ended, Kohli had a new high score (80*) in that slot.
Much of the doubts over whether Kohli would fit into his new role (a desperate move due to KL Rahul’s poor form) were allayed when he pulled Mark Wood over the long-leg fence despite being cramped for space in the sixth over. He was ready to take his chances, more so with Sharma blowing hot at the other end.
The big square boundary here looked small as Sharma was in the mood to send anything in his arc into the empty stands. He started with a big swing in the third over against Adil Rashid that sent the ball over mid-wicket, continuing against Wood with a pull over fine leg.
The short ball has been a tool that was put to good use by England pacers throughout this series. It bore result too. But on Saturday, the Indian team’s two most senior batsmen were ready. By the time Sharma reached 50, he had already hit four sixes and three fours.
It took a surprise leg-cutter from Ben Stokes for Sharma to play on to the stumps at 64 (34b) in the ninth over. Despite Kohli reaching only 22 (20b) by then, India were coasting at over 10 runs per over.
Yadav, who hit Rashid for successive sixes off the second and third balls, did not let the intensity drop. When not hitting sixes, India’s new No. 3 gave ample examples of his 360-degree hitting prowess with four fours against Jordan in the 12th over.
Kohli had also nicely warmed up by then and was ready for the final assault. If his teammates hit the ball over the fielders, the India captain sent it between them for fours. In all he hit seven fours, each time finding the gap with a cool head, determined to bat on till the end.
When Yadav fell to Rashid, after a combined fielding effort at the boundary from Jordan and Jason Roy, it was time for Pandya to join the party. Kohli at the other end kept finding the boundaries to stay unbeaten.
In reply, England looked shaky when Bhuvneshwar bowled Roy off the second ball of the innings.
What followed was a fiery reply from Buttler and Malan. Even a 225-run target looked unsafe as they took on the bowling.
From Hardik Pandya to T Natarajan, from Washington Sundar to Rahul Chahar, none was spared. Quite like the Indian innings, anything short was thwacked, anything fuller got hit in the V till the 13th over.
It again needed the seasoned Bhuvi to make a timely intervention, once again showing his class with variations keeping the batsmen guessing. Buttler tried to slog over long-off, but could not time it properly and Pandya took the catch on the boundary. That trickle turned into a torrent when Shardul Thakur sent back Jonny Bairstow and Malan in the 15th over.