SPB.N News – Online Desk: Remember the time chasing was hard in ODIs? A second match of this series assumed heart-stopping proportions as a flat track, a fast outfield, short boundaries and batsmen with self-belief the size of a small planet came together. India put up 381, fuelled by a career-best 150 from Yuvraj Singh and a 10th hundred from MS Dhoni. But they only just came away the victors of the match, and the series, as Eoin Morgan responded with one of the great innings by a batsman in England colours.
Beyond the runs Morgan made [102 off 81], beyond his ball-striking and the weird areas he exploited with those whiplash wrists – his composure under pressure was unreal. There were over 40, 000 people in Cuttack bellowing against him. The Indian spinners had done well despite the dew to complicate matters. The required run-rate had nudged over 10 at the end of the 36th over but, since England had lost half their side by then, Morgan had to wait. He was the set batsman – 46 off 48 balls – and his team needed him to last till the end. To that effect, he would defend his way through an R Ashwin over because after that it would be him against the Indian quicks. Morgan was gambling, and it was even paying off for a while.
He made one of the headline contributions in a remarkable match. There were 747 runs, 19 sixes and 81 fours and its final swing took place in its penultimate over when Jasprit Bumrah held his nerve to run Morgan out for 102 while he was backing up to get back on strike.
To get to that stage took a big effort from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, playing his first ODI in a year. He began his second spell in the 42nd over, conceding just eight runs. He could have had a wicket, too, had Ravindra Jadeja been able to take a skier from Moeen Ali at long-on. In his next over, he gave away only three singles and bowled Moeen, who had hammered back-to-back fours to reach a half-century mere minutes ago. The wicket was the result of a little sleight of hand. With the required rate – two runs a ball – suffocating him, the batsman never saw the offcutter coming. As a result, instead of two well-set hitters at the crease, India had the comfort of aiming at England’s lower order.
The other big play came in the middle overs, when Jadeja bowled the dangerous Jason Roy for 82 and Ashwin took care of Joe Root for 54. The offspinner then befuddled both Ben Stokes for 1 and Jos Buttler for 10 to rob England of a majority of their firepower, with the side 176 runs adrift of the target and nearly 20 overs left in the chase. Jadeja was remarkable. In a game where runs were scored at more than seven runs an over, he kept an economy rate of 4.5 by bowling wicket-to-wicket. And Ashwin went back to his old ways of deceiving batsmen in flight – Root top-edged a sweep, probably thinking the trajectory was flatter than it was. That broke a partnership of 100 between him and Roy at over run-a-ball. The crowd at Barabati stadium breathed easier.
They had spent the first innings in pure nostalgia with each ball that Yuvraj and Dhoni sent their way during a partnership of 256 in 230 balls. At one end, there were flowing drives with scintillating timing and from the other came brutal swats. No one was safe. Not Stokes, who was winded when Dhoni whacked a ball back at his chest. Not Alex Hales, who was wringing his fingers after trying to get under a pull from Dhoni. Not even the Spidercam was spared damage.
Yuvraj wasn’t quite as murderous, or maybe he was and was just a little bit kinder to things both living and non-living on the ground. He came in at the end of the third over, enjoyed England trying to bounce him out on a pitch that barely had any in the first place, and bedded in to make his first hundred since the 2011 World Cup. It came off his 98th delivery and the celebrations made it clear how much the innings meant to him. He looked skyward, with his hands aloft. Then the bat handle thumped into his chest and he may even have become misty-eyed. At 35 years, having spent three years nowhere near the ODI team, wondering what would become of his career, coming back with his highest score had to be sweet.
There was no place for such emotion with Dhoni. He was what the situation made him. When he came in at the fall of Shikhar Dhawan’s wicket in the fifth over, he blocked 14 straight deliveries from Chris Woakes, who was the sole reason India were 25 for 3. The next time those two faced each other, the ball was muscled over the midwicket boundary. Dhoni finished on 134 off 122 balls – having been 6 off 22 once – and became the first Indian to hit 200 sixes in ODIs. The shot that took him there – eerily similar to the one that won India the World Cup in 2011 – hit the top tier behind long-on. There was another reminder of that night in Mumbai; the final was the last time Yuvraj and Dhoni had put on 50 runs or more together.
But the clear-headed England that made all the early breakthroughs happen by bowling full and keeping a tight line on off stump fell into a trap. They bowled too short at Yuvraj, who eventually realised there was nothing in the pitch to make him fear such a line of attack. It is true that extreme pace has unsettled him regardless of conditions but he didn’t have to face any on Thursday. A one-bounce pull for four got him going, drives through mid-off and cover showcased his timing and a pristine punch down the ground told the crowd they were in for something special. With Dhoni concentrating on staying at the crease to such a point that he barely even thought about runs early in his innings, and a severe lack of wickets, the middle overs became party time.
India hammered 94 runs in the 10 overs between the 30th and the 40th and finished with 73 off the last five. Also responsible for the late flourish were Kedar Jadhav, who belted three fours and a six in 10 balls, Hardik Pandya ,who began his innings with a four and six, and Jadeja, who helped take 14 runs off the final over.