Sunday, 15 January 2017

England's one day test

Sunday, 15 January 2017
India. It's always known as one of the hardest places for any team to tour, in any format of the game. That's something England will know well after a test tour that got worse and worse the longer it went on. Their ODI record in India over the past decade offers little hope too; since 2006 reading 18-3 in India's favour. But this isn't the England team of before, instead one that has risen rapidly over the past two years, that has won five of their last seven series - including two in Asia. An England team that surely has their best chance of major success in a long time.

England's batting power was in full display today. 350/7 was their highest score against India in ODIs, with 105 runs scored in the last eight overs alone as India's death bowling went to pieces. It took 33 balls for Ben Stokes to get to fifty, England's fastest against India. Fifties came from Roy (73 from 61), Root (78 from 95), and Stokes (62 from 40), with cameos a-plenty - Moeen Ali's 28 from 17 another little gem for England at the death of the innings. It was England's ninth score of 350 or more in ODIs; seven of those have come since the 2015 World Cup. It's no longer become a surprise when they do that sort of thing, which in itself shows how far they've come.

But while England might be able to score 350, you wouldn't necessarily back them to defend it - certainly not against India in India, not against Virat Kohli. It was a total that gave them a good chance, but even with such a weight of runs the match still looked set for a close chase. England got the start they needed, the opening pair falling to Willey before Stokes and Ball picked up one apiece. India were 63/4 in the first twelve overs, but their new ODI captain had come to the crease.

It was a familiar tale for England. New format, new year, but Kohli still reigning supreme. It was his 27th ODI century. 27! And he's only 28! Only three players have scored more centuries than Kohli - Jayasuriya (28), Ponting (30), and Tendulkar (49). Think of how many matches they've played. And run chases are his forte, an extraordinary average of 90.90 in successful chases for India. When Kohli bats, everything just looks easy. He's on another level to the rest of us mortals.

He didn't do it alone, of course. It was Kedar Jadhav who was the man of the match, his own century being India's fifth fastest in ODIs. The two shared the partnership that changed the match. It would be easy for a team to crumble at 63/4, still nearly 300 runs adrift, but India weren't going to crumble. The two shared 200 runs for that fifth wicket, utterly demoralising England in the process. England could never get the lid on during those middle overs when the spinners were to bowl; twelve balls from Rashid to Jadhav going for 31 runs alone. The bowling wasn't good enough, but the batting was brilliant.

Yet eventually, Kohli did fall. Jadhav was struggling with cramp and barely able to run, though with a few more sixes in him. But with those two gone, the score at 291/6, the game was far from over. Only England saved perhaps their worst bowling for this stage, not able to find a line or a length to stop India. Jadeja and Pandya had problems of their own, an element of panic setting in: chaotic running between the wickets, trying to whack every ball when it wasn't needed. It became a bit of a scramble towards the end, but Pandya did settle, a vital innings of 40* at the death. The mammoth chase and been chased.

It's a three match series, short and sweet, but leaving no more room for error. Certainly with the bat England have shown their worth, and it's not very often you score 350 and go on to lose. But it feels almost as if no total is enough when coming up against Kohli in this kind of form, and especially so when the man alongside him is playing far more than just the support act. England's bowlers will take a bruising, but they can do better, and they need to do better. They are strong at the start of an innings, but really need to follow that through - the key middle overs where the spinners come to play, and hitting their lines and lengths at the death. ODIs are always a tough game for the bowlers, a contest of which team can batter more runs than another, but wickets will always be the best way to slow down a run rate. India broke partnerships throughout England's innings, whilst Kohli and Jadhav were together for 24.3 overs as the run rate rose and rose. A chance to chase could make a difference too, and much could depend on who wins the toss - or just what call they make. England showed again the team that they are - rough around the edges and still with lessons to be learned, but damn exciting to watch along the way.

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