England 158 for 2 (Buttler 83*, Bairstow 40*) beat India 156 for 6 (Kohli 77*, Wood 3-31) by eight wickets
It was a contest defined by fast bowling of the highest quality, in particular from Mark Wood, but it took a Duking between the two star batsmen on either side to settle the third T20I, as Jos Buttler‘s 83 from 52 trumped a masterful 77 not out from 46 balls from Virat Kohli, to re-establish England’s series lead in the third T20I at Ahmedabad.
Between them, the two men made 160 unbeaten runs from 98 balls, compared to 137 from 132 from the remaining nine batsmen on either side – a reflection on another tricky two-paced surface, and a ratio that might have been more comprehensive still but for Jonny Bairstow’s late flurry of boundaries, as his 40 not out helped seal England’s second eight-wicket win of the series with 10 balls remaining.
The margin of England’s victory proved to be as dominant as their opening gambit, but they were made to work harder than might have been anticipated at 87 for 5 after 15 overs, with Wood’s figures of 3 for 14 in three overs confirming the extent to which he had scorched India’s top-order with speeds that touched 155kph/96mph.
There hasn’t been much in the way of cat-and-mouse antics when India have been batting in the powerplay – more dog-eat-dog. And for the second time in three matches, either side of Ishan Kishan’s pyrotechnics on Sunday, it was England’s red-hot fast bowlers who made India’s top order go “woof!”
From 22 for 3 on Friday, India limped to 24 for 3 today – including a remarkable 25 dot-balls out of 36 – with Wood, who sustained a bruised ankle in the first game, proving his fitness beyond any doubt with a furiously up-and-at-em display.
Even the slowest ball of Wood’s first two-over spell was too quick for the awfully out-of-sorts KL Rahul, who played all round a pacy inducker to be bowled for a four-ball 1 – exactly the same score that he made in the opening contest, and taking his tally for the series to 2 from 14 after Sunday’s six-ball duck.
In hindsight, the decision to shunt Kishan down to No. 3 was an error from India – not least because it encouraged Eoin Morgan to throw the opening over to Adil Rashid once again, who served up a diet of cautiously negotiated googlies to the right-handers and conceded five runs in a tidy agenda-setting over.
Rohit, back in the team after a post-Test break, was never able to settle in his 17-ball 15. Jofra Archer and Wood both missed return catches in his skittish stay – the latter a significantly sharper chance than the first – but in the end, the two quicks combined in a canny piece of pace bowling, as Wood followed his quarry down the leg-side, and cramped his attempt at a pull for Archer to swallow the top-edged chance.
Kishan, meanwhile, found himself faced with a wholly more problematic scenario than he had faced on Sunday. He was made to hop from the outset as Wood greeted him with a trio of splice rattlers, before Archer in his followthrough came close to pulling off a run-out one over later. Instead it was Chris Jordan who sawed him off, banging in the bouncer for Buttler to run back for the top edge.
His team-mates struggled to make any headway on a difficult deck, but Kohli showed once again – in his second imperious half-century in as many games – that haste and speed are not remotely the same thing. His poise during England’s first-half surge transmitted some much-needed calm to India’s dug-out; but his acceleration at the back end was astonishing, as India’s run-rate began to spike like Gujarat’s Covid cases.
Kohli had ticked along to 28 from 29 balls by the end of the 15th over – and at 87 for 5, a total in the region of 120, much as they had made on Friday, seemed the upper end of India’s ambitions.
They had lost two more wickets in that time too – Rishabh Pant, run out for 25 after responding too slowly to a fumble from Buttler, and Shreyas Iyer, whose scalping at deep backward epitomised the Route One violence that had put England so firmly on top – a shimmy this way, a shimmy that… it made no odds to Wood, who simply pounded the middle of the pitch once more, and extracted a flappy upper-cut.
But then, as Archer returned for his third over, Kohli flicked the switch for India. His first six of the night was a streaky top-edge over fine leg – a direction of travel that Archer had said after the first game he was “at peace” with, because at least it implied he was winning the battle. Kohli’s next two, back to back off Wood, were extraordinary – a huge pull over midwicket as he shuffled two metres outside off to pre-meditate the short ball, then a drill over long-off as he correctly anticipated 150kph yorker.
The counter-punches kept on coming as England tried to claw their way towards their 20-over exit. Hardik Pandya, more hit-and-miss than his magisterial captain, still landed two vital wipes in his 15-ball 17 as Jordan and Archer offered too much width on their short balls. But the finesse was all Kohli’s, as he ramped Archer over fine leg, then unfurled arguably the shot of the night in Jordan’s final-over, a wristy clip through wide long-on to combat a well-disguised legcutter.
Kohli’s agony at handing over the strike via a penultimate-ball leg bye was palpable, and sure enough, Pandya couldn’t connect well enough as Archer completed a good running catch in the covers. Nevertheless, his highest T20I score against England had established a target of 157 that was riches in the circumstances. And had it not been for Buttler’s masterclass, it might conceivably have proven competitive.
Buttler stands on no ceremony
After the deck-hitting dramatics of England’s quicks, Jason Roy can’t have been the only person to be taken aback by the hooping movement that Bhuvneshwar Kumar extracted in his opening Powerplay over. He responded by slashing two boundaries in Kumar’s second over – the second an ambitious ramp through third man – then holed out on the reverse sweep two balls later, his short but sharp stay confirming the sense that India’s total was significantly better than it appeared on paper.
Buttler, however, was in no mood to wait around. Yuzvendra Chahal was greeted with a pair of wafts over long-on for six in his first over, and a brace of fours in his second, either side of a 16-run over off Shardul Thakur, whom he cuffed over square leg for another six to drive England along to 57 for 1 in the powerplay – more than double the total that India had mustered, for a third of the damage.
From 43 from 17 balls, Buttler’s job in the short term had been done, and he visibly reined himself in thereafter – priming himself to be lurking at the death if needed, and challenging his team-mate Dawid Malan to set the tempo in the interim. In the wider context of the contest, Malan’s 16 from 18 balls was a perfectly adequate contribution. However, his solitary boundary was a top-edged swat for six, and the manner of his departure, stumped off Washington Sundar in his first visible attempt to force the pace, did little to assuage the concerns that he might not be exactly the player England need at No.3. When a No.1-ranked batsman with a higher T20I average than Kohli is a team’s most notable batting concern, it’s fair to surmise that that department is in good order.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket