With 15 months to go for the next ICC Cricket World Cup — to be advantageously held in India — teams are at a stage of shaping their squads. A defeat at this point — which was the case for India to England by 100 runs in the second of a three-match One-Day International series — is not a disaster.
A bad day at the office can easily be rectified in the decider at Old Trafford, Manchester, on Sunday. But lessons have to be learned from each encounter to consolidate preparations for the tournament that matters most in the ODI format.
Captain Rohit Sharma justified his decision to field first on the basis of there being residual moisture in the pitch and preferring to know how much to chase rather than setting one. He was not unsound tactically on the second count, but was mistaken in thinking the wicket would be anything but bone dry. England is in the middle of an uncommon heatwave. Besides, it was cloudless and sunny throughout the England innings.
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The parched conditions predictably assisted spin; and unsurprisingly, leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal returned figures of four for 47, while Ravindra Jadeja, with his left-arm orthodox spin, was the most economical of the Indian bowlers.
On a slower surface compared to the track in the first meeting at The Oval, India’s quicker bowlers were steady rather than penetrative. Hardik Pandya’s availability to bowl has been a bonus on this tour for the Indians. His accurate line, with clever variations of length — including throwing in bouncers — at generally a brisk pace fetched him two wickets, regardless of a dropped catch off his bowling.
England’s batsmen never quite broke loose. But run-a-ball 38 and 33 from Jonny Bairstow and Liam Livingstone kept the scoreboard ticking, while a top score of 47 from 64 balls from Moeen Ali, not to mention 41 from 47 by David Willey, registered a run rate of close to five and over-modest in the modern limited overs context. They were bowled out for 246.
As the day progressed, the after-office crowd filtered through the turnstiles to pack the stands to capacity. The Indian batting, though, failed to match the expectation. Neither Sharma nor his left-handed opening partner Shikhar Dhawan really got going. At the same, this created an opportunity for the middle order, which had been denied to them in the 10-wicket victory in the previous match.
The out-of-form Virat Kohli promised much with two handsome drives and an off-drive. But the misjudgment that has crept into his game appeared again as he nibbled at a delivery slanting away from him.
Briefly, the fifth-wicket partnership of Suryakumar Yadav and Pandya raised hopes, before the former played on. In short, an undaunting target in unchallenging batting conditions was missed because of an uncharacteristic batting failure. A conspicuous malaise is that of playing away from the body or doing so too early.
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