It is a truism of short-form cricket that a game can be decided by the outcome of one delivery. And so it was in the second T20 at Ahmedabad when Virat Kohli was dropped on 10 in the fifth over of what was, to that point, a slow start in pursuit of England’s 164 for six.
From there, as if it were foretold, the Indian captain returned to form in style by rattling off an unbeaten 73 from 49 deliveries, the victory secured by seven wickets with 13 balls to spare.
Jos Buttler was the man who missed the moment, England’s wicketkeeper unable to drag in a tough chance down the leg side that Kohli – coming off a duck on Friday – gave from Chris Jordan’s first ball with India on 22 for one.
In just three overs from that moment, a further 45 runs were piled on between the captain and his debutant opener, Ishan Kishan, who was also put down on 40 by Ben Stokes running in from long-on.
The 22-year-old left-hander, who honed his craft in the Indian Premier League for Mumbai proceeded to boom back-to-back sixes off leg-spinner Adil Rashid to raise his half-century in just 28 balls.
The impressive Kishan fell later in the same over for 56 but the damage was done with the home side on 94 for two at the halfway mark, then able to cruise to the victory line to square the five-match series at one apiece. Rishabh Pant slotted 26 of the remaining runs in 13 balls, twice clearing the rope to ensure there would be no twist, then Kohli sealed the win with a mighty blow of his own, launching Jordan into the jubilant crowd of 66,352.
Earlier, after being put in by Kohli at the toss, England struggled for timing and rhythm at either end of their innings. But despite not being able to master the slow surface early on, 44 runs in the powerplay – for the loss of Buttler, lbw to Bhuvneshwar Kumar for a first-ball duck in the opening over – looked a serviceable effort with Jason Roy back in form and accumulating efficiently.
Reaching 46 by the 12th over, the opener looked ready to explode having to this point hit two huge sixes over long-on and nailing two reverse sweeps after missing a slew of them early on.
However, in another defining moment, he holed out to the first ball of Washington Sundar’s third over, the off-spinner also picking up Jonny Bairstow (20 from 15) in similar circumstances. Having already lost Dawid Malan (24 from 23) the responsibility for the final stanza transferred to Eoin Morgan and Stokes, but they weren’t able to stick the landing from 129 for four after 15 overs.
The captain hit four boundaries on the way to 28 before falling in the 18th over but Stokes only found the boards once in a frustrating stay of 24 from 21 balls. All told, the visitors were only able to strike three fours in the final five overs with Shardul Thakur, Hardik Pandya and Kumar routinely nailing their slower balls to deceive the swinging Stokes.
It was a doubly impressive effort given Kohli had jettisoned his sixth bowling option at the toss, Axar Patel left out of the starting XI.
“We want to try and learn and experience as much as we can through this series,” Morgan said after the loss, quick to draw positives from playing on a challenging pitch ahead of the T20 World Cup in India this October. “The only way to become better in these conditions is playing and making mistakes. When they took pace off the ball, we weren’t able to execute.”
The other factor to consider ahead of the third rubber on Tuesday, Morgan said, was that it will be played on a pitch predominantly formed from soil different to that of the first two games, which he noted will bring Moeen Ali into selection calculations.
“The next game is on the red soil that looks like Ayers Rock so it is probably going to turn and we want to learn as much as we can to get that experience under our belt,” Morgan said.