There were sound cricketing arguments against Yuvraj Singh’s selection for the limited-overs matches against England. But ahead of the series, Virat Kohli, the India captain, backed the move, saying that the southpaw was chosen to reduce the burden on MS Dhoni, given the inexperience of the middle order.
On Thursday (January 19), Yuvraj vindicated his recall with a whirlwind career-best 127-ball 150, including 21 fours and three sixes. In the company of Dhoni, who made 134 off 122 balls, he pulled India out of the woods on a benign track at the Barabati Stadium. The last time Yuvraj and Dhoni had added fifty-plus runs as a pair in an ODI was way back during the 2011 World Cup final against Sri Lanka. The duo rolled back the years during a mammoth 256-run fourth-wicket stand that took India to 381 for 6 – their second-highest total against England. It was India’s bowlers, led by R Ashwin’s 3 for 65, returned the favour by holding their nerve against a spirited England batting line-up to take India to a 15-run win.
England did well to overcome an early setback in the form of Alex Hales, with Jason Roy (82 off 73 balls) and Joe Root (54 off 55 balls) consolidating in the middle overs. Eoin Morgan (102 off 81 balls) played a captain’s knock, scoring his ninth ODI century, and along with Moeen Ali (55 off 43 balls) and Liam Plunkett (26 not out off 17 balls), threatened pull off a heist. But in the end it just wasn’t enough as England were kept to 366 for 8, thus conceding a 2-0 lead in the three-match series.
Yuvraj held India’s innings together in the first half before adding robust blows in the second while careening to his 14th ODI century. Dhoni was subdued only in comparison, content to play second fiddle, but with the confidence slowly returning, he struck telling blows towards the end as the pair sent the hapless England bowlers on a leather hunt.
India lost a crucial toss, and England immediately opted to bowl, keeping in mind the dew factor that would leave their inexperienced bowlers grappling. But, yet again, their bowlers failed to take advantage of a great start. India’s opening woes continued to haunt them as KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan could just put on a 13-run stand. Rahul was squared up and nicked a good-length Chris Woakes delivery to Ben Stokes in the slips. Kohli walked out to raucous cheers from the packed crowd, but had a rare off day when a bottom edge off Woakes’s delivery skewed to a diving Stokes at second slip in the same over in which Rahul had been dismissed.
Woakes was unstoppable, snaring Dhawan two overs later to leave India tottering at 25 for 3 in 4.4 overs. Dhawan, who welcomed David Willey into the attack with consecutive fours, perished while trying to manufacture a shot that he chopped onto his stumps.
But as had happened in the first ODI in Pune, the pressure created by the first set of of England bowlers found easy release in the next. Considering the precarious situation India were in, Yuvraj and Dhoni began slowly before stepping on the gas in the middle overs. England appeared completely clueless in the later stages as the two batted with supreme freedom.
Yuvraj brought up his half-century from 56 balls, even as Dhoni opted for a slightly more conservative approach. With Yuvraj on song, the bleeding continued unabated as the boundaries came rapidly. The back cuts, the sweeps and square-drives came out in full flow; Yuvraj also played handsomely through the covers and was quick on the pull when the ball was pitched short, doing the running with Dhoni not too far behind. Morgan was running short on ideas, having tried out all his regular options, when Dhoni threw England a chance.
The usually composed former captain lost his poise and skied a quicker delivery from Plunkett, replacing Adil Rashid in the England XI, but was dropped, on 43, by a scampering Jake Ball, whose futile attempt to cup the ball sent it away over the rope. Dhoni brought up his half-century off 68 balls with an outside edge off Stokes that raced through to the third-man boundary.
As the tandem continued in cruise mode, only Plunkett was able to enforce some control, although more by accident than design. But Yuvraj couldn’t be kept quiet for long. He smashed two fours off Stokes to advance to the 90s, and a single after a sublime four through mid-off brought up his first century since the 2011 World Cup.
Woakes, whose first spell read 5-3-14-3, was finally brought on to stem the flow, but it had little effect as Dhoni pulled a short one for a huge six over midwicket, thus bringing up their 200-run partnership off 202 balls. Yuvraj continued the assault, surpassing his earlier best score of 138 with a lofted six over long-on, and soon raced to 150 off 126 balls. At the other end, Dhoni brought up his tenth ODI century, after almost four years, as the full house bellowed in celebration. Woakes, who finished with 4 for 60, finally managed a breakthrough when Yuvraj nicked one behind, but it was a scant consolation.
Kedar Jadhav, who bailed India out along with Kohli in Pune, entertained with a couple of fours and a six, but soon fell to Plunkett for a 10-ball 22. Pandya and Dhoni belted 35 runs, the latter hitting three sixes in an over off Plunkett before falling to the same bowler as he tonked a full toss that found Willey at deep square-leg. Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja then added an unbroken 23 for the seventh wicket to ensure India’s bowlers had just enough, as it turned out.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, picked ahead of Umesh Yadav, began India’s defence with a maiden, but England’s chase chugged along expected lines. Hales was out early, when Jasprit Bumrah elicited an edge that was snapped up by Dhoni. But Roy got his eye in with a patient start, even as Root was on the money right from the start, cutting Pandya behind point for a boundary off the first ball he faced.
With the asking rate hovering over eight, Root and Roy were quick between the wickets and also found the gaps with ease. They treated Jadeja, who was introduced in the 11th over, with respect, but it was Pandya that the duo targeted to get to their half-centuries off consecutive balls in the 20th over. Just when it seemed like they would be in for a long haul, Ashwin broke the century stand in his first over when Root, guilty of failing to convert yet another start, holed out to Kohli at midwicket.
The Ashwin-Jadeja tandem stifled England some more. Although Roy hit a couple of fours and a six, Jadeja got the better of him when the opener’s premeditated dab messed up his stumps. Stokes, responsible for England’s late flourish in Pune, was bowled by an Ashwin arm ball in the next over, as England slumped from 128 for 1 to 173 for 4.
With 172 required off 112 balls, all hopes rested on Morgan and Jos Buttler. But Buttler walked past a deliberate leg-side wide from Ashwin, only for Dhoni to apply the finishing touches with a quick stumping.
Under pressure due to his inconsistent run with the bat, Morgan held the innings together with Moeen, who survived a run-out scare on seven. With the required rate shooting past 10, the duo punished the loose balls on offer, especially from Pandya and Jadhav. Morgan brought up his half-century off 53 balls, and the 50-run partnership was also realised soon after.
England were still in the hunt with 113 needed of the last ten overs, and Moeen had another slice of luck on 37 when Jadeja misjudged a skier off Bhuvneshwar at long-on. Morgan and Moeen collected three fours off Jadhav in the next over to add to India’s woes, but Bhuvneshwar knocked over Moeen’s off-stump to break 93-run stand and wrest the advantage.
When Bumrah sent back Woakes in the next over, the writing was pretty much on the wall, or so it seemed. Morgan was left with the daunting task of scoring a majority of the 78 required off 5.4 overs, and he continued unperturbed, hitting fours and a six off Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah. Plunkett too was his enterprising best with consecutive fours off Bumrah, soon after earning an lbw reprieve through a review.
Morgan brought up his century, with five fours and five sixes, in the penultimate over, slapping Bumrah through backward point, but failed to finish the chase when he was run out two balls later. With 22 to win off the last over, Plunkett and Willey could only gather six runs as England slumped to yet another loss.
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