India got the ODI series up and running with a 66-run victory in the first match at Pune that could be described as comprehensive. ‘Could’ because there were points throughout when England felt in complete control only to emerge comfortably short.
Their dismissal for 251 in pursuit of a target of 318 was grating for its inevitability despite knocking off the first 135 runs without loss after 14.2 overs. Even with the ball, they restrained India to 205 for five, Shikhar Dhawan, with 98, the only top-order batter not tied down, with 57 legitimate deliveries left to fashion something worthwhile. It proved to be more than enough.
Even with the caveat of missing regular 50-over stalwarts in Joe Root, Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer, this was a bad old performance from the reigning world champions. What will hurt most in this third consecutive white ball defeat is that it exposed multiple areas for improvement. The most frustrating lapse proved terminal.
The opening stand, led by Jonny Bairstow’s 94, gave way to a top-order collapse that saw all of the front five done for just 41 runs. On a personal level, it allowed Prasidh Krishna to finish with four for 54 after a pretty ignominious start of 37 conceded in his first three overs.
Even that partnership between Bairstow and Jason Roy (46) was largely repairing the damage from a final Indian blitz of 112 off 61 that breezed them to their 317 for five. The tourists, however, could not begrudge the key instigator of that late assault – Krunal Pandya.
The 30-year-old, alongside Lokesh Rahul’s 62 not out, struck a match-turning 58 from 31 balls, pocketing the format’s quickest half-century by a debutant off 26, on an emotional day for the Pandya family.
Upon receiving his maiden cap, he embraced younger brother Hardik – a celebratory moment tinged with grief after the passing of their father in January. Krunal looked to the heavens when he reached 50 and was beside himself at the innings break, unable to hold back the tears in a live interview at the halfway stage after dedicating the knock to his late father.
He returned with the ball to face some punishment before registering a first wicket (one for 49) with the scalp of Sam Curran, caught down the ground. By then, England, 239 for eight, were already circling the drain.
Eoin Morgan’s side had started promisingly, winning the toss and electing to bat second before restricting India to just 39 from the Power Play. Those first 10 overs were punctuated by Mark Wood (two for 75) and Sam Curran (nought for 48) beating the bat numerous times. No reward meant Rohit Sharma and Dhawan made it to 15 overs in good health, 34 and 28 respectively.
The pair did not make it out of the 16th: Ben Stokes, in his first ODI since the 2019 World Cup final, picking up his first when removing Sharma with a wide delivery that needed to be hit anywhere but through to Jos Buttler. The blip of 64 for one did little to halt the expected uptick in runs as Virat Kohli stepped into the fray, strumming through to a half-century off as many deliveries.
A 105 stand between Kohli and Dhawan came as England were losing their thread. Moeen Ali, getting his first appearance of this limited overs leg six games in after playing just one Test this winter, dropped Dhawan at deep midwicket. A missed chance on two fronts given Adil Rashid’s drag-down should have gone for the six and Dhawan could have been seen off on 59.
Searching for what seemed an elusive intervention, Morgan turned back to Wood who needed just seven deliveries of his second spell to repay this captain. A controlled flick to square leg from Kohli nestled straight in the hands of Moeen this time: the gifts of amends for the catcher and seeing the back of an ODI great for 56 lifting England’s spirits in the field.
Yet the glee of the further wickets to come – three of the middle order taken out for 18 in 15.5 overs, including Dhawan two short of an 18th ODI century – was off-set by injuries. Sam Billings left the field after spraining his collar bone joint when attempted to save a boundary, and he was joined on the sidelines by Morgan when the skipper tour the webbing between the thumb and index finger of his right hand.
Both received treatment – Morgan getting four stitches from the team doctor – with a view to participating in the chase. Into the final 10 of the India innings, it seemed that whatever work required with the bat from the engine room pair would be minimal. Stokes’s third (three for 34) left the hosts 205 for five with 9.3 overs to go and the dangerous Hardik Pandya one (off nine) and done.
Alas, Hardik’s demise merely tagged in Krunal to provide the expected Pandya dash, which he duly delivered. In tandem with Rahul, England’s death bowling plans were ripped to shreds.
What talk there was at the interval of momentum re-routed and a batting card light through the first-half’s ailments were ignored by Bairstow and Roy. The pair, perhaps buoyed by India’s final charge that showed a pitch truer for striking that first thought, combined for their ninth century stand in 42 innings together.
The Power Play was savaged for 89, all the more remarkable considering they had just 24 after five overs. Such was their early demolition double-act that by the time a patched-up Morgan came to the crease at number four – Roy and Stokes (1) becoming Krishna his first two wickets at this level – England required just 181 from the remaining 33.4 overs.
Morgan should have gone for a first ball duck for Krishna’s third, edging to Kohli at a wide slip only for the India captain to shell the ball after thudding to the ground after diving well to his left. Nevertheless, there was a change in tact.
Bairstow typified this: 80 off 51 at the time of this cluster after rinsing quicks and slowies – Krishna’s third over was taken for 22 with a pair of fours and sixes. He struck one more boundary – the last of his six fours – before falling attempting his eighth six off his 66th, flailing Thakur high to Kuldeep Yadav in the leg side. And when Morgan and Buttler fell in the same Shardul Thakur over, a wounded Billings and undercooked Moeen went into the final 25 overs knowing the majority of the 142 left had to come between them.
Their endeavour was countered by India’s increasing control. Both were back in the dugout with 80 still required from England’s tail which was severed with little fuss, with 47 balls still to play.
With the second ODI of this three-match series on Friday, the days ahead will allow the knocks to ease and the minds to refocus. One imagines changes will be made if only to give other squad members game-time. That, though, becomes a little harder after such a loss.