With a brilliant innings straight out of the Twenty20 textbook Jos Buttler was the hero of England’s victory in the third match of their series in India, but perhaps it was Eoin Morgan who made the most telling contribution, half an hour before play even began, when a coin was tossed into the air and the travelling captain correctly called heads.
The ease with which the team batting second has won every match so far threatens to cheapen more than just this series. Particularly in day-night matches, when as the contest progresses dew speeds the ball on to the bat, across the outfield and sometimes out of the fielders’ hands, batting second seems to bring an unhealthy advantage at the rebuilt Narendra Modi Stadium.
When Virat Kohli, whose own contribution with the bat was phenomenal but ultimately futile, was asked after this defeat whether the toss is proving too important, he said simply: “It is.” This series is relatively trivial but more important matches are scheduled to be played on the same ground in the near future, and a coin toss is no way to decide a World Cup final.
Forced to bat first India’s innings played out like a classic Hollywood disaster movie, with minor characters being despatched in a variety of unedifying ways while the star kept calm amid the carnage and, literally on occasion, swept all before him. Kohli’s was a performance wasted on an empty stadium, and while the host broadcaster furnished the fake crowd noise generator with some handy audio of crowds chanting his name it was nothing compared with the reaction such an effort would have inspired in a packed house. India’s captain scored 77 of his side’s 156 runs including 49 off 17 balls in the last five overs, roving the full width of the crease, anticipating the bowlers’ every move and punishing their predictability.
The game’s outstanding bowler was Mark Wood, back in the side after injury kept him out of the last game, who took three wickets for 14 runs with his first three overs before Kohli took the sheen off his figures by smashing 16 off his last. “Every time he’s got the ball in his hand at the moment he seems to make things happen with express pace,” said Buttler afterwards, and in the early stages Archer was at the other end doing likewise.
Among those who suffered as a result were Ishan Kishan, whose 32-ball 56 on debut swung the second match of the series in India’s favour but who scored a nine-ball four on this occasion, and KL Rahul, whose middle stump was all but obliterated by Wood for a second duck of the series – his last four T20 innings for India have lasted for a combined total of 16 balls and yielded a cumulative total of one run.
On the day before this match Jason Roy talked about the technicalities of scoring big runs as an opener in this format. “You have to be ultra-aggressive, but more often than not you have to go down the gears,” he said.
“Start in sixth gear, up to the sixth over, then you’ve got to go down the gears, and then you’ve got to go up the gears.” Here Roy got stuck in second gear before mishitting a reverse sweep straight to Ishant Sharma at backward square leg, but England’s other opener had obviously been involved in the same conversations.
At the end of the powerplay Buttler had scored a ludicrous 43 off 17, laying into Yuzvendra Chahal with particular savagery, and he then went down the gears, scoring 20 off 20 across the next six overs with just one boundary, before accelerating again to see the tourists home.
“The ball swung a bit with the seamers so I thought spin was going to be the best time to attack in the powerplay,” said Buttler of his targeting of Chahal, “and the fact he’s had some success against me in the IPL he might not be expecting me to attack him.” He will not make that mistake again: Chahal’s two overs in the powerplay went for 25 runs despite containing the day’s outstanding delivery, which was propelled towards leg stump before turning outrageously and ripping past off.
This was Morgan’s 100th T20 international – Buttler is the next most experienced Englishman, on 77 – and England’s captain was “nearly brought to tears” by Buttler’s words in a pre-game ceremony marking the occasion. “He’s taken English white-ball cricket to a place it’s never been, and he’s done that in an incredible way,” Buttler said later. It would unfairly trivialise this transformation to put any of it down to luck, but a bit of good fortune at the coin toss always helps.