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England hold nerve to secure last-ball win

Wisden India logo Wisden India 22-01-2017

The last time England played at Eden Gardens, they missed the opportunity of getting their hands on silverware by a whisker, finishing second-best to West Indies in the World T20 2016 final. Nine months since that heartbreak, England returned to Kolkata a much better limited-overs outfit, notwithstanding the 2-0 scoreline in favour of India in the three-match One-Day International series.

On Sunday (January 22), memories of that balmy April night almost came back to haunt England, but their death bowlers held their nerve to seal a thrilling consolation five-run win and keep India’s series scoreline down to 2-1.

Chasing England’s 321 for 8, India did well to overcome a poor start. Virat Kohli hit a measured half-century, but it was Kedar Jadhav’s 75-ball 90, and his century stand with Hardik Pandya (56 off 43 balls), that took India to within touching distance of the target. Ben Stokes, who was hit for four sixes off the last over by Carlos Brathwaite during the World T20 final, conquered the death-bowling demons to finish with 3 for 63, while Chris Woakes and Jake Ball took two wickets apiece to restrict India to 316 for 9.

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Making first use of the slightly green surface after being asked to bat first by Kohli, England made a solid start, courtesy a 98-run opening stand between Jason Roy (65 off 56 balls) and Sam Billings. Then, half-centuries from Jonny Bairstow (56 off 64 balls) and man of the match Stokes (57 not out off 39 balls), and a late cameo by Woakes, lifted them to a healthy tally.

India’s opening woes spilled over to another match. Ajinkya Rahane, replacing an out-of-form Shikhar Dhawan, was bowled by David Willey in the second over. KL Rahul, the other opener, showed early promise, launching a huge six and a four off Woakes in the first over, but perished while pulling Ball. England desperately missed the services of Willey as he was out of the attack after injuring his left shoulder in the fourth over. Chris Jordan, part of England’s T20I squad, replaced the pacer on the field.

Kohli and Yuvraj Singh associated for a 65-run third wicket stand to steady the chase, with the India captain doing bulk of the scoring. Kohli started with a couple of boundaries off Woakes, and ensured the scoreboard kept ticking over despite Yuvraj struggling against the movement off the pitch. It didn’t help that the southpaw was hit on the chest by a short ball from Ball on three. Kohli should have been dismissed for 35 when he skied a top-edged pull off Plunkett, only for a fumbling Ball to put the catch down at long-leg. He brought up his half-century off 54 balls, but was out soon after, flashing at a wide one from Stokes that he nicked behind.

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With 220 required off 182 balls, the stage was set for a Dhoni-Yuvraj encore. After a mammoth 256-run fourth-wicket stand that took India to 381 in Cuttack, they could only muster 31 runs before a Plunkett delivery found the meat of Yuvraj’s bat and floated to Billings at deep midwicket. Dhoni began with promise — a top-edged six off a Plunkett bouncer — and Jadhav too got into the groove with a couple of fours off Moeen Ali. Two more boundaries followed in the next over, but Ball elicited a top-edge off Dhoni that was taken by Jos Buttler for 25.

With the veterans back in the hut, it was up to the Gen Next finishers to see off the chase. Jadhav and Pandya began slowly before taking advantage of the bowlers grappling with dew. They punished the loose balls, especially the short ones that were dispatched over the fence. Jadhav brought up his half-century, pulling a short ball behind square-leg, while Pandya’s maiden ODI fifty came not long after. Stokes finally managed to end the 104-run stand by breaching through Pandya’s slog.

With 45 needed off 27 balls and Jadhav — the hero from the first ODI in Pune – around, India were still in the race. Ravindra Jadeja hit a couple of fours off before falling to Woakes, while Stokes did well to give away just four runs and dismiss R Ashwin in his last over. With 16 to win off the last over, Jadhav hit a four and a six but Woakes dismissed him off the penultimate ball to hand England their first win of the tour.

If England’s bowlers held their nerve to defend the target, it was their batsmen who set the tone in the first half.

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Roy and Billings survived testing spells from India’s quicker bowlers to set up a solid foundation, although Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Pandya (3 for 49) got enough movement to plant doubts into the minds of the openers.

Roy got off the mark with a flick to the midwicket boundary. Billings, replacing an injured Alex Hales, appeared leaden-footed to begin with and was lucky not to nick a couple of deliveries from Pandya, who maintained probing lengths to deny too many scoring options. Introduced in the seventh over, Jasprit Bumrah kept the batsmen on their toes and added to the pressure by starting with a maiden over. Despite being beaten in almost every over, the openers however found easy release as well.

Roy danced down the pitch to loft a huge six over Jadeja’s head to bring up his third half-century of the series. Billings, who had been circumspect for the most part during his 35 off 58 balls, suddenly favoured adventurism and the move backfired. Trying a reverse sweep off a slightly wide delivery from Jadeja, Billings chipped straight to Bumrah at short third-man. Jadeja had Roy’s number for the third time in this series when the opener tried to work a flatter one, but was bowled for 65.

Eoin Morgan and Bairstow, replacing Joe Root who was out with a niggle, had no room to take on the spinners early on. India lost their only review when they thought they had Morgan caught behind off Bumrah in the 29th over, but the Ultra Edge had nothing to show. Two deliveries later, Bairstow got a reprieve when he holed out to third-man, only to be saved by a Bumrah no-ball. To add to India’s misery, Morgan dispatched the free-hit over long-leg for a six and the duo soon brought up their half-century stand off just 60 balls.



Bumrah finally managed a breakthrough when Morgan flicked one straight to short fine-leg for 43. Bairstow survived another scare, this time off Pandya, when a caught behind appeal was turned down. Buttler fell to Pandya while looking to hit out through the covers, but only managing a toe-end to Rahul.

With two power-hitters in Bairstow and Stokes in the middle, England managed to add 96 runs in the death overs despite losing wickets, thanks to the late blitz from the allrounder. Bairstow was the first to go, cutting a wide delivery from Pandya to a tumbling Jadeja at backward point. The ploy to pepper Moeen with short balls worked as a top-edge off Bumrah was caught by Jadeja at point.

Stokes ensured the fall of wickets had little impact on England’s scoring rate, as he added 73 runs for the seventh wicket with Woakes. He creamed a six and a four off Bhuvneshwar, before bringing up his half-century off just 34 balls with a boundary through point off the same bowler. Woakes too joined the party, collecting a six and two fours off Bumrah in the penultimate over, before being run out for a 19-ball 34.

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