There aren’t many who can upstage an in-form Virat Kohli, but in a game that turned into a duel between two of the greatest white-ball batsmen of all time, it was the blade of Jos Buttler that flashed more brightly.
An eight-wicket victory for England, who now lead this five-match series 2-1, continued a trend: win the toss, bowl first, then chase when the dew helps the ball skid on and makes runs easier to come by.
If that made Kohli’s 77 not out from 46 balls all the more impressive, it should not detract from the skill Buttler showed during a career-best unbeaten 83 from 50 that eased England over the line with 10 to spare.
Jos Buttler’s commanding 83 not out saw England beat India by eight wickets in Ahmedabad
Eoin Morgan’s men were excellent in the powerplay again, taking three wickets in the six overs
And it really ought to end the discussion over his position in the T20 line-up – though that debate is starting to feel more like a broadcasting ploy to fill air time than serious material for the Oxford Union.
‘I don’t know if this will ever end it, but people seem to quite enjoy talking about it,’ he said. ‘I feel the pressure every time I do have the opportunity to make a case, because there are loads of guys who can open the batting for this team. But I know I’ve got the full backing of Morgs to open, and it’s my preference in T20 cricket.’
The warmth between the two men was evident before the start of play, when Buttler made a speech to the team huddle and handed over a special cap to commemorate his captain’s 100th T20 appearance.
The notoriously ice-cool Morgan admitted he was moved to the brink of tears. And that was before Buttler started batting.
He has now made seven half-centuries in his 17 innings as a T20 opener, with an average of 51 and a strike-rate of 153.
Mark Wood was once again on-song, dismissing India openers KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma
Elsewhere in the order, his record is four fifties in 52 innings, with an average of 23 and a strike-rate of 133. Not quite chalk and cheese, but you get the picture.
All batsmen, it’s true, prefer the wide-open spaces offered by the early fielding restrictions. But few are as adept at finding them. Unperturbed by the early loss of Jason Roy as England set off in pursuit of 157, Buttler finished the six-over powerplay with 43 from 17 balls, including three sixes.
It meant he could take his foot off the pedal, and instead allow Jonny Bairstow to move through the gears. In racing to 40 from 28 balls, Bairstow became the fifth England player to reach 1,000 T20 international runs, behind Morgan, Buttler himself, Alex Hales and Kevin Pietersen. If and when Hales is welcomed back from exile, England will have untold top-order riches.
They were also boosted by the return from a heel injury of Mark Wood, who came in for Tom Curran. Wood bowled KL Rahul for a duck – the Indian opener has made one run in three innings – bounced out the dangerous Rohit Sharma, and then had Shreyas Iyer caught in the deep.
India then fought back courtesy of their captain Virat Kohli who made a sublime 77 not out
His runs helped India score 56 runs from the last four overs to post a total of 156-6
On a red-soil pitch offering bounce, he and Jofra Archer unsettled everyone, until Kohli imposed his class on proceedings to help his side thrash 69 from their last five overs.
One pull for six off Wood, who touched 95mph, was dismissive. Wood pitched the next one up, but Kohli drove him over long-off for six more with Swiss-clock timing.
When Hardik Pandya carved Archer over point for six in the 19th over to bring up the 50 stand for India’s sixth wicket, his share was just 10. Since making a duck in the series opener, he has scored 150 runs from 95 balls without being dismissed.
Perhaps Kohli’s greatest skill is to do it all without slogging. His only blemish came later, when he dropped Buttler at backward point on 76.
But England never looked in much trouble during the chase, personified by Buttler’s fifty
Jonny Bairstow (left), however, scuppered his chances of a maiden hundred with a quickfire 40
From a powerplay score of 24 for three, then 64 for four after Kohli’s optimistic call for a third led to the run-out of Rishabh Pant, an Indian total of 156 for six felt like a triumph.
But Dawid Malan helped Buttler put on 58 for the second wicket until he was stumped off Washington Sundar for 18.
By then, though, England were in control – the only threat to their peace of mind coming from the sound effects that filled a stadium rendered empty by Covid.
Victory in one of the last two games and the series will be theirs.
Kohli and Yuzvendra Chahal dropped Buttler once each in an abject fielding display