posted on 2019-07-01 09:38:33
posted by Naimish Gupta
Image courtesy: ICC
Intent and ruthless flamboyance have been the hallmarks of the brand of cricket played by the English cricket team over the past four years after that ignominious 2015 World Cup debacle. But for some reason, these very hallmarks which have now become so ingrained as the English style went amiss when the poster-boy of such attacking tactic, Jason Roy, pulled up his hamstring while fielding against the West Indians. Except for that murderous assault by Eoin Morgan on a hapless Afghanistan bowling attack, England looked far from their usual intimidating self especially in the clashes against Sri Lanka and Australia.
After watching them making a mockery of 300+ targets consistently in the past four overs, one expects the hosts to chase down the paltry scores (in comparison to the 300+ monuments) without much fuss but what resulted against the likes of Lasith Malinga & Co. or against Mitchell Starc & Co. is out in the open. Three matches was the time-span for which Roy warmed the bench due to his upset hammy and watched his team thrashing Afghanistan while getting humbled against Sri Lanka and Australia, putting their own qualification bid for the knock-outs in jeopardy.
Looking at the batting in the last two defeats, it can be safely put that English openers failed to arrive in their role of laying a good foundation for their teammates to cash-in later. In the three matches that England played in Roy’s absence, only Bairstow (that too once) could breach the 50-run mark while the figure stood at three (two fifties and a hundred) in the preceding three matches in which Roy featured. So, when England took the field against India at the Edgbaston, they were not only in search of their lost exuberance but were also looking up to their opening marauders to put up a show. Boy! did they disappoint you?
The scratchiness was there as was evident during the opening powerplay which saw the duo managing only 47 runs amidst some tentative edges but once Bumrah-Shami made way for the other bowlers, Roy and Bairstow decided to up the ante. From 47/0 in 10 overs, England went on to rack-up 133 in the next 15 overs. The two spin twins, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, bore the brunt as they conceded 51/0 and 56/1 in their respective 6 overs up to the half-way mark.
The important part was that the two batsmen weren’t just slogging blindly but were reading the line and length from the Indian bowlers to perfection. Initially, Roy was the aggressor while Bairstow took his time settling in and then he too shifted through the gears seamlessly. Roy was eventually plucked out by a brilliant diving catch at long on by Ravindra Jadeja but he had already smashed 66 runs off just 57 balls by then. His opening stand of 160 runs in just 22 overs with Bairstow ensured that England were able to cope with the late squeeze applied by a rejuvenated Indian bowling attack.
The importance of the tone set up by the English opening partnership can be better gauged if we compare the two opening periods of play of 10 overs each for both the teams. India lost KL Rahul early in the chase and that put pressure even on the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma who could only manage a paltry score of 28/1 as compared to England’s 47/0 in the first ten overs. It was the point where the game started to drift towards England as the next phase, i.e. overs 11-20, saw Roy and Bairstow really cranking it up to plunder 98 runs without losing a wicket while India still remained in the conservative consolidation mode to milk out 55 runs without getting a further scratch.
There is no doubt that the English bowlers bowled exceptional line and lengths but they could do so because they had the confidence coming out from that mountain of a total that their batsmen had earlier scaled up for them to defend against the famed batting line-up of India. The point comes to light again that it was the 160-run opening stand which served as the foundation stone for such a dominant show by the hosts.
England now need to continue their regained flair against New Zealand in what is their last league game to confirm their bid for the knock-out stage. They will be heartened to see their opening partnership peaking just at the right time – a glaring chink so evident when James Vince (with scores of 26,19 and 0) featured in the absence of Roy. The only thing that England now need to do is to pray for Roy’s supreme fitness as despite playing in the India game he was close to only 80% fit – a factor which led to Vince filling up for him for the fielding duties.
The win ensures that England still have their fates in their hands and will need to win their final encounter against New Zealand while teams like Pakistan and Bangladesh, who have been breathing down their neck, will continue to pray against their triumph against the Kiwis. With England’s batting re-entering their mercurial mode, the business end of the tournament promises a really exciting fight for the fourth semi-final spot.