India tried out new players and new methods against England in limited-overs cricket
India’s thrill-a-minute seven-run victory over England in the third and final ODI in Pune on Sunday completed a clean sweep for the home nation across formats. It’s an achievement India should be proud of, for England, despite losing the Tests comprehensively (1-3), proved that it was a formidable limited-overs side, as reflected in its status as the world’s top-ranked outfit in both ODIs and T20Is and in the fact that both series required deciders. England is the reigning ICC Men’s World champion, and had lost just one of its last 14 bilateral ODI series and none of its last six in T20Is. But India triumphed, thanks to some smart play at crunch moments, made possible by an astonishing array of made-to-order cricketers. The wicket-taking exploits of Shardul Thakur (eight in T20Is and seven in ODIs to top the lists), successful debuts for Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav in T20Is, and Prasidh Krishna and Krunal Pandya in ODIs, and Hardik Pandya’s full-fledged return to bowling duties were big positives. Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s dream comeback from injury was a huge plus. The 31-year-old’s economy rate of 6.38 across 18 overs in five T20Is was the best for any bowler. More astounding was his rate of 4.65 across 29 overs in three ODIs, where five of the six innings played saw scores in excess of 315.
The limited-overs leg also provided India the opportunity to try and adopt a different approach in white-ball cricket, ahead of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup at home later this year. It started with skipper Virat Kohli wanting to play “baggage-free” cricket, perhaps alluding to India’s formulaic style that had prioritised crafty build-ups, slow reveals and end-over flourishes over the current-era template of power-hitting from start to finish. The setting was just about right; played across just two venues — Ahmedabad (T20Is) and Pune (ODIs) — pitch and conditions, two of cricket’s biggest variables, were all but taken out of the equation. The roles that Ishan and Suryakumar — part of the Mumbai Indians set-up which epitomises the all-out attacking approach — played in the T20I series win cannot be understated. The relentless hitting from Rishabh Pant and Hardik in the ODI series-decider, despite India having lost four of the best batsmen before the half-way stage, was indicative of similar thinking. This is a method England has patented, through the likes of Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy and Jos Buttler. If Ben Stokes’ stunning 52-ball 99 coming in at No.3 in the second ODI was its acme, Sam Curran’s gallant 95 not out at No.8 in the final match was most typical of this attitude. For India’s heroes, the impending Indian Premier League, and a few bilateral series which are set to follow, will provide enough chances to fine-tune these skills.