A change of format brought a change of fortune for England in Ahmedabad as the excellence of Jofra Archer and an aggressive performance with the bat saw the tourists cruise to a dominant eight-wicket victory over India in their Twenty20 series opener.
Gone were the demons experienced on the same ground during the recent 3-1 defeat in the Test matches, England’s batsmen knocking off their target with 27 balls to spare after Archer’s earlier three for 23 had reduced the hosts to 124 for seven.
For Jonny Bairstow there was a pleasing return to the scene of the three ducks in four innings that followed his much-debated mid-tour break, clubbing an unbeaten 26 from 17 balls, while Dawid Malan’s first outing on the subcontinent saw him seal the win with a handsome straight six off Washington Sundar to finish 24 not out from 20.
Jason Roy had earlier broken the back of the chase with a 32-ball 49, ending what has been a personally fallow 12-month period in international cricket for the opener. This was timely too, given some recent (albeit mixed) messages from England about the in-form Alex Hales possibly ending a near two-year exile from the set-up.
But as good as the batsmen were – and this was not a straightforward surface for the first of five matches at the Narendra Modi stadium – the 1-0 lead for Eoin Morgan’s players was set up by a performance in the field that belied a lack of warmup cricket for the majority, and highlighted the centrality of Archer to their T20 World Cup plans.
“I’m just glad to help,” said Archer, fresh from his best figures in T20i cricket and having shown few signs of the elbow injury that affected his Test campaign. “When the competition is tough you step up – and competition brings out the best in me.”
Morgan had said before the match that bowlers are still playing catch-up in T20 as the skills of batsmen continue to expand. But here, after winning the toss, his attack was clinical, wiping out India’s top three and sending down 25 dot balls in an opening powerplay of just 22 runs that left the hosts immediately up against it.
This was produced through a heady mix of leg-spin and outright pace. Archer struck with his second ball as KL Rahul chopped on and Adil Rashid, the solitary spinner and entrusted with the first over, snared Virat Kohli for a fifth-ball duck as he attempted to give himself room, only to slap one to the safe hands of Chris Jordan at mid-off.
The 67,000-strong crowd was stunned into silence by the departure of the Indian captain and though Rishabh Pant soon broke this with a frankly outrageous scooped six off Archer, the hush returned when Mark Wood lit up Shikhar Dhawan’s bails during the first of four fiery overs that continued Archer’s initial hostility.
India were badly in need of a partnership and though Shreyas Iyer batted through from No 5 to the final over – eventually falling to a Jordan slower ball for a 48-ball 67 made through classical strokeplay and one cut six over backward point – England held a solid length on the two-paced pitch and struck at regular intervals to stymie any momentum.
Key to this was the removal of the dangerous Pant in the 10th over. He may have bettered the trick shot witnessed off Jimmy Anderson during the fourth Test but the left-hander was successfully suppressed thereafter, eventually flicking the golden arm of Ben Stokes to Bairstow in the deep to see India 48 for four by the halfway stage.
It left Hardik Pandya as the only recognised hitter left alongside Iyer but when Archer returned for a second spell and claimed two in two balls – Pandya chipping to mid-off for a 21-ball 19 and Shardul Thakur pulling the fast bowler to long leg – England’s batsmen knew their looming chase would likely be manageable.
They still needed a confident start, however, with Roy and Jos Buttler scorching 72 runs from the opening eight overs to settle any nerves. It meant that when Roy eventually perished, lbw to Sundar after Buttler had been similarly trapped by leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal for 28, a mere 35 runs were required from 8.5 overs.
Out strode Bairstow bristling with intent, pumping two sixes and standing his ground when he and Sundar collided at the non-striker’s end to see a return catch off Malan go down. Like England as a whole, it was a reminder that Bairstow is a very different beast when white-ball cricket comes around.