For a while on Saturday, England could dream about chasing down 225 and claiming a notable series win. Then reality bit.
A 3-2 defeat in the backyard of the world’s second-ranked team is no disgrace, but it was a reminder of the task that lies ahead if Eoin Morgan’s side are to become the first to hold both the one-day and Twenty20 World Cups.
The decider of a topsy-turvy series was played on the best pitch yet – in theory, the kind on which England’s fast bowlers and strokemakers thrive. But it was India who flexed their muscles. World Cup hosts later this year, they may yet be winners too.
Virat Kohli and his India squad celebrate after clinching the series victory over England
India’s Hardik Pandya and Virat Kohli walk off the pitch after doing damage in the first innings
Rohit Sharma began with a destructive 64 off 34 balls, Virat Kohli made a polished unbeaten 80 off 52 after promoting himself to open, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar took two for 15 off four overs of near-artistic swing and seam. On a surface that reduced most other bowlers to jelly, his was the performance of the night.
And yet England gave themselves a chance. At 120 for one off 11 overs, with Jos Buttler teeing off and Dawid Malan intent on proving that a middling series had been an aberration, they were making India sweat.
But they could barely afford a quiet ball, let alone a quiet over. The 12th, bowled by Indian leg-spinner Rahul Chahar cost only seven. The 13th, bowled by Bhuvneshwar, was even better: three runs, and the wicket of Buttler for 52 off 34 deliveries, and sent on his way by a mouthful from Kohli, who was soon squabbling with the umpires. A great player he may be, but there are times when he is hard to warm to.
The noose tightened further. Hardik Pandya gave up just six runs in the 14th over, and suddenly England needed 89 off six. When Shardul Thakur bowled Malan for a 46-ball 68, it felt like the decisive blow. The rest was anticlimax. ‘It was the complete game for us,’ said Kohli. ‘We totally outplayed the opposition.’
Captain Kohli top-scored as India finished their innings on 224-2 in Ahmedabad
It was the third unbeaten half century in the series for the ever-brilliant India captain
Morgan was as relaxed as ever. ‘It would have been nice to kick on,’ he said, ‘but our middle order probably didn’t fire as well as we would have liked.’ And the Kohli-Buttler contretemps? ‘Virat’s very animated. That’s who he is.’
England remain top of the T20 rankings – this was their first series defeat for nearly three years – but they lost the last two matches after winning the toss, and have problems to solve before they return to India in October.
Among them is the Moeen Ali question. Rested from the two Tests at Ahmedabad so he could be ready for the T20s, he didn’t play a single game. England opted instead for Sam Curran, who bowled only 10 overs in five matches.
Eoin Morgan’s England side fell just short in what turned out to be a compelling series
England opener Jason Roy was dismissed for a duck, losing his wicket on the second ball
Then there’s Ben Stokes, who feels wasted in the middle order: 14 off 12 balls from No 6 after the game was lost is not the best use of his talent. But moving him into the top three would involve a tricky decision.
Buttler simply has to open, which leaves Jason Roy and Malan. Roy made three forties in this series, but was out second ball here to a wild hack at Bhuvneshwar, and remains suspect when he begins against spin.
Malan went into the game with a series haul of 80 runs from 77 balls, and a nagging sense that – despite his No 1 ranking – the slow tracks of South Asia are not his bag. In that respect, his 11th T20 score of 50 or more, bringing up 1,000 T20 runs more quickly than anyone in history, told England little they didn’t already know: when the ball comes on to the bat, he is a match for anyone.
Jos Buttler (R) and Dawid Malan put England in a good position but they then collapsed
Until this game, they could point to greater incision with the ball early on, with Mark Wood’s five powerplay overs bringing three for 18. But he went for 53, more than he has ever conceded, and Chris Jordan suffered a similar fate, leaking 57. Jofra Archer, meanwhile, equalled his most expensive analysis by going for 44. In all, India hit 11 sixes. It was carnage.
One moment, though, will live long. The precocious Suryakumar Yadav had crashed his way to 32 off 16 balls when he launched Adil Rashid towards deep midwicket. Sprinting round the boundary from long-on, Jordan took a freakish one-handed catch. Sensing he was about to tread on the rope, he tossed the ball in a gentle parabola to Roy, who burst out laughing.
Morgan managed a smile too. ‘It’s just remarkable. Some of his contributions in the field over the years – it’s stuff we cannot do. It’s pure natural ability, and he seems to do it time and time again. It’s a joy to watch.’
England may need a few more moments of magic later this year if their captain is to collect another piece of silverware.
England paceman Jofra Archer is run out by India wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant on Saturday
Kohli celebrates after India sealed the series victory over England in Ahmedabad