Right through the five-match T20I series against India, England captain Eoin Morgan insisted that his team viewed the outings as a great chance to prepare for the ICC T20 World Cup to be held in India later this year.
True to form, England played a strong unchanged eleven in the majority of the matches, kept the batting order constant, and even stuck to its preferred route of opting to field when the toss went Morgan’s way.
The series may have been lost 2-3, but the visitor finished with a good understanding of its strengths and weaknesses.
India, on the other hand, took a more fluid approach. This leg was used as a chance to test new talent, and a new ‘baggage-free’ aggressive batting style. Planning for the World Cup was not of utmost priority, a point underlined by vice-captain Rohit Sharma, who stated on Saturday that there was still a long way to go.
With the IPL, and perhaps a few T20Is slotted for the coming months, the Indian team management will adopt a wait-and-watch approach before focusing all energy on the mega event.
Regardless, a few faces staked claim to long-term India spots. None more so than Suryakumar Yadav, whose two outings with the bat yielded 89 runs at a terrific strike-rate of 185.41. The Mumbai cricketer impressed one and all with his impetuous hitting — a quality that captain Virat Kohli demands from his batsmen.
Ishan Kishan enjoyed a remarkable debut in the second T20I, striking a match-winning 32-ball 56 as opener. Ishan, batting at one-drop in the next match, only made four, and then sat out due to a groin injury. Like Suryakumar, Ishan’s fearless style makes him a hot favourite to grab a World Cup berth.
Among the bowlers, Shardul Thakur — the highest wicket-taker of the series — stood out. The pacer put the skids on England with crucial double strikes in the fourth and fifth T20Is.
On both occasions, he showed great control over the slower deliveries, and turned the game in India’s favour.
Bhuvi’s dream return
Fellow speedster Bhuvneshwar Kumar enjoyed a dream return from injury. The England batsmen struggled to deal with his sharp swing with the new ball, and were all at sea when he used the cutters in his later spells. Bhuvneshwar’s two for 15 in the final T20I, where bowlers from both teams were under the pump, proved that he was a cut above the rest.
The home side did have to deal with a couple of failures. K.L. Rahul’s wretched run, with scores of 1, 0, 0 and 14, led him to being dropped for the decider.
Rahul started the series with Kohli’s backing as the first-choice opening partner alongside Rohit Sharma, but it ended with Kohli replacing the Karnataka lad at the top of the order.
Shikhar Dhawan, another opener, was unceremoniously dropped after failing in the first T20I.
Under Kohli’s impulsive captaincy, one can expect more changes in personnel and tactics before the World Cup begins. A lot can happen over the course of seven months.