As anticipated the spinners prevailed. But contrary to expectation it was the English spinners, rather than Kuldeep Yadav, who ensured victory on another sun-kissed afternoon. Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali – or should that be Merlyn Ali, given that he took the vital wicket of Virat Kohli – stifled India’s middle order so that England won comfortably by 86 runs. So we have another decider on our hands at Headingley on Tuesday.
The pursuit of 323 in this era does not intimidate batsmen but Eoin Morgan had read the situation shrewdly. He has in the past regaled us with his side’s love of chasing targets but he is also familiar with Lord’s and he reckoned that the wicket, which had a tinge of green at the start despite being dry, would become more difficult for batsmen needing to score quickly. This proved to be the case. Morgan batted first and Joe Root’s 12th ODI hundred ensured a competitive target. But Morgan still required the bowling and out-cricket to be smart. And it was.
England may not have been flawless out there – a couple of sharp chances went to ground – but there were many highlights. Twenty overs from Moeen and Rashid yielded three wickets and just 80 runs, with the wrist-spinner’s googly proving especially productive. Jos Buttler behind the stumps took a superlative catch in his left hand via an inside edge from KL Rahul’s bat while the seamers, sensing a bit of help, were more disciplined than at Trent Bridge, with Liam Plunkett gaining the bulk of the spoils.
India lost three wickets in the space of three overs to slump from 49 without loss to 60 for three with Rohit Sharma slogging and Shikhar Dhawan slicing before the departure of Rahul. This left Kohli and Suresh Raina with a rebuilding exercise; they managed 80 in 16 overs whereupon Kohli, stuck on the crease, was lbw to a mysterious straight ball from Moeen. When Rashid bowled Raina the equation became unmanageable even for MS Dhoni who was all too easily shackled. By the end Dhoni was batting in the manner of Sunil Gavaskar in a World Cup match against England at the Oval in 1975 – seeking practice rather than victory.
With the bat England delivered one of their more pragmatic performances mainly because Root scored most of the runs. He was run out for 113 from the last ball of the innings, which took his average in this format to exactly 50, hardly the figures of a man in crisis. Nonetheless these were timely runs. He is England’s best batsman but he has not been dominant this summer.
After reaching three figures there was relief rather than defiance upon Root’s face. This was not a Nasser Hussain moment – remember how in 2002 Hussain, whose place at number three in the ODI side had been hotly debated, turned his back to the press box and pointed to the number “three” on the back of his shirt upon registering his hundred.
Root has not been subjected to the same level of criticism as Hussain after his little trough. So there were no histrionics but there was a nasty little parallel: when Hussain hit 115 out of England’s 326 for eight 16 years ago, India managed to knock off the runs with three balls to spare. Back then this was an unexpected turn of events. In 2018 there was the suspicion, misplaced as it transpired, that England’s 322 for seven might not be enough.
The pattern of England’s innings was familiar. Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow cruised past the fifty mark without much trouble. Then Kuldeep was introduced for the 11th over of the innings and Bairstow got out. It was a scrappy dismissal; he tried to sweep Kuldeep’s second delivery and the ball ricocheted from his front pad to his glove and then into the stumps.
Four overs later Roy’s slog sweep terminated in the hands of deep mid-wicket and England seemed to be succumbing, lemming-like, to the mystery spinner again. In fact, Root and Morgan dealt with him well enough thereafter during a 103‑run partnership until a rank full toss was swatted by Morgan into the old leg‑trap – another catch just inside the boundary at deep mid-wicket.
Neither Ben Stokes nor Buttler could contribute. This is not much of a concern in the case of Buttler, but the old Stokes magic is proving elusive on the evidence of his brief innings at Lord’s and his long vigil at Trent Bridge. So Morgan was grateful for Root’s polished, extravagance-free innings. Root demonstrated why he is indispensable to this side. At his best he can glean runs with the minimum of risk. Down the order David Willey managed some of these while hitting a career best 50 from just 31 balls in a reassuring 83‑run partnership in the final nine overs of the innings.
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