An all-too familiar tale was seemingly unfolding at Headingley as England’s batsmen were again finding spin an unsolvable puzzle in the middle overs. The dot-ball torture most affected Eoin Morgan, who scored 2 off 19 R Ashwin deliveries before being stumped to leave England at 117 for 4 after 29 overs. Another 220-odd target for India’s batsmen to chase down as they stifled yawns?
Joe Root and Jos Buttler erased that scenario with a vigorous century stand, England’s first of the series. Buttler fell on 49 to the sort of comical run-out that goes viral as a gif, but Root sped to his second ODI century, in front of a delighted home crowd. That rousing partnership and some lower-order swinging took England to 294, leaving India with their stiffest challenge of the series.
India’s batsmen weren’t up to the task, as recognisable elements from the Test series re-appeared. The opening stand didn’t last long, James Anderson had Virat Kohli nibbling to slip, Moeen Ali made important breakthroughs, and MS Dhoni had too much to do. All of which led to England winning their first ODI since late May.
The match began slipping away from India during England’s batting Powerplay, when Root and Buttler walloped boundary after boundary to pillage 55 in five overs. Root made a far bigger overall score, but Buttler’s impact was huge. He began the mayhem in the Powerplay, cashing in against the recalled Umesh Yadav with a crunching four over mid-off followed by a fortuitous top edge over third man for six. Scoring against pace is fine, but what about spin? When Ashwin dropped short two overs later, Buttler bludgeoned him over square leg for four, and then to cow corner for six.
Thirty-nine runs had come off the first three Powerplay overs, the chokehold applied by the spinners had came off, and the hitherto watchful Root also started reeling off big hits. Suddenly 300 wasn’t looking like a far-fetched target, particularly given India’s long-standing troubles with death bowling.
Buttler had set up a grandstand finish to the innings but he fell in the 43rd over, after blindly setting off for a run even though the ball had barely dribbled past the wicketkeeper. Root then took apart Ravindra Jadeja, as 17 runs came off the 45th over, with the slog-sweep that earned him plenty of runs also bringing up his century. The boos which Moeen complained about were replaced by celebratory shouts of “Rooooot”, as the local boy shrugged off a lean summer in the ODIs.
Ben Stokes swung a few sixes, Yadav’s propensity for leaking runs resurfaced and though Mohammed Shami set down some perfect yorkers, England finished close to 300.
That score seemed unlikely after Alex Hales’ failure, Alastair Cook again making a sluggish 40-odd, and Moeen’s promotion not working out. Only 49 runs came between the 16th and 30th over, Morgan’s range of sweeps and reverse-sweeps weren’t working, and India’s fielders were diving around in the circle to cut off any easy runs.
Unlike his captain though, Root didn’t give it away after getting a start. There were controlled pulls early on, and two stunning straight drives off Bhuvneshwar Kumar, as he began with a mix of boundaries and defence. A direct hit from Jadeja at point could have ended his innings in the 16th over with Root on 23. After that he concentrated on the ones and twos – hitting just one boundary in the next 20 overs – before cashing in towards the end.
India’s chase spluttered in the first over itself. Ajinkya Rahane had spoken of how he had sleepless nights after a “silly mistake” cost his wicket in the second ODI; he will toss and turn tonight as well after lazily slicing a wide delivery to point in the first over to fall for a duck.
Kohli is at his best when faced with a tall chase, and after a disastrous tour, there were hopes he would provide a glimpse of his talent but his search for a half-century extended as he was caught at slip for 13. Shikhar Dhawan swiped Moeen for a big six but was bowled later in the over attempting the same shot.
Ambati Rayudu collected his second half-century in three innings, but he holed out to mid-on soon after. Suresh Raina had already become another of Moeen’s victims, and when Dhoni slapped a short and wide Steven Finn delivery straight to cover in the 37th over, India’s already slender chances were virtually over. The wicket was the luck Finn deserved after both Raina and Rayudu had been put down in one of his earlier overs.
Ravindra Jadeja re-enacted his famous Rajput celebration from Lord’s as he picked up a half-century, but there was no real threat of him preventing an England victory. The win will be scant consolation though after a wretched limited-overs home season, with England still having plenty to work out as the World Cup approaches.
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