Neutralizing The Toss For The Third Time India Beat England In The 1st ODI: A Case Of Constants & Variables?



In the first one-day international (ODI) of the three-match Series played in Pune India have beaten England by 66 runs yesterday, taking a 1-0 lead in the series. Like the last few matches this game too was played to empty stadiums due to the second wave of COVID-19 virus in India. India’s captain Virat Kohli lost the toss yet again, for the third time in a row taking into account the last two T20 internationals, and it proved to be a good toss to lose, yet again. It was heartening to see India’s regular opening pair, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, coming in to open the innings. Perhaps this being the first match of the series India started very cautiously to avoid the oft-repeated first-match blues, and concentrated on doing the groundwork for a good total. However, they did not get into a shell which also proves to be India’s undoing on many occasions. In the power-play overs they managed to put up 64 runs when Rohit departed for 28 off 42 balls.     

 

The first hundred-run partnership of the Indian innings was achieved between Dhawan and Virat Kohli, and Kohli fell to Mark Wood for 56 off 60 balls at the team score of 169 in the 33rd over. Shreyas Iyer, coming in at no.4, became Wood’s second victim at the team score of 187 in the 35th over. The player-of-the-match Dhawan had been going on steadily at the other hand, but unfortunately he could not accomplish the landmark of a ton and fell to Ben Stokes for 98 runs in the 39th over at the team score of 197. When big-hitter Hardik Pandya followed suit immediately for just 1 run to give Stokes this third wicket India were in some spot of bother, because at 5 down for 205 in the 41st over the ideal target of 300+ runs looked distant with only KL Rahul as the recognized batsman and who had been doing poorly despite the rigorous restoration project undertaken for him by the team management.

 

However, Hardik’s brother Krunal Pandya, making his debut in the ODI format, changed it all, and as a welcome change Rahul started playing fluently. The second hundred-run partnership of the innings, the longer and the game-changing one, happened between the duo with the strikingly dominant partner Krunal making 58 not out off just 31 balls and Rahul making 62 not out in 43 balls. India crossed the 300-mark and put up a challenging target of 318 for England to win. In modern ODI cricket the 300+ landmark is no longer unassailable and it seemed that India fell short by about twenty runs.

 

As if to exacerbate such fears in the minds of the Indian fans England opening pair Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow started in the most destructive manner, notching up incredible 135 runs in the 15th over. The formidable asking rate now had become very manageable under 6 an over, and with wickets in hand the game shifted dramatically to England’s favour. At that point of time another debutant for India ODIs, pacer Prasidh Krishna, captured the crucial wicket of Roy (46) and then cutting short Ben Stokes for just 1 run.

 

The fall of Bairstow to Shardul Thakur for 94 off 66 balls delivered another death blow to England’s aspirations, at 169/3 in the 23rd over. After that the combination of Krishna (4/54) and Thakur (3/37) ensured England losing wickets at regular intervals with Bhubaneshwar Kumar, economical as ever, joining in at the end for 2 wickets. Sensational debutant Krunal also opened his wicket account with a solitary one. Finally, England were all out for 250 in the 43rd over which meant that but for the lack of enough wickets in hand the visitors were always in the chase.

 

With tremendous bench strength building up all the time for India, particularly the emergence of of quite a few promising fast bowlers, Team India seems to be swimming in a stream of constants and variables. The number of constants in the team seems to be dwindling from time to time in favour of the variables. See, India have achieved the last victories without the services of their main strike bowler Jasprit Bumrah, not to speak of another stalwart all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja. Of course, there have been contradictions in retaining non-performing constants, like the rigorous restoration project for KL Rahul and hark!—captain Kohli never looks at the prospect of experimenting with himself! This curious syndrome of ‘constants and variables’ should continue to work for India if not taken out of bounds. With the kind of experimentation going on it is not certain if Prasidh and Krunal are going to figure in the next team for the second ODI at all. Performing players should always be rewarded consistently and non-performing ones should be made to realize how precious and competitive the positions in Team India have become of late.

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