India 224 for 2 (Kohli 80*, Sharma 64) beat England 188 for 8 (Malan 68, Buttler 52, Thakur 3-45, Kumar 2-15) by 36 runs
An unbeaten 80 by Virat Kohli and a stunning half-century by Rohit Sharma in an unfamiliar but effective opening partnership set India up for a comfortable win in the fifth T20I before Bhuvneshwar Kumar finished it off to seal the series 3-2 in Ahmedabad.
India left out regular opener KL Rahul and brought in an extra bowler, T Natarajan, in a move Kohli described at the toss as prompted by a desire to “bring in a good balance with bat and ball”. But there was no denying Rahul’s struggles – he had made 1, 0, 0, and 14 in the series – and his absence meant Kohli would open for just the eighth time in T20Is. Kohli and Sharma combined for a 94-run stand from 56 balls to lead India to a commanding total of 224 for 2, their third-highest T20I total at home and fourth highest overall. Persisting with the back-of-a-length and short-pitched bowling which had brought them success through the series, England’s attack looked toothless on this occasion as India’s batsmen adapted and thrived.
England had said after India levelled the series 2-2 with an eight-run victory on Thursday that they would relish the pressure of a must-win clash as ideal preparation for the World Cup in October. They set out in pursuit needing to score at 11.2 an over and recovered from the early loss of Jason Roy as Dawid Malan and Jos Buttler carried them to 62 for 1 by the end of the powerplay, which compared favourably with India’s 60 for 0, en route to a 130-run partnership.
But some wonderful bowling by Kumar – who claimed 2 for 15 from his four overs, including 17 dot balls and the vital wickets of Roy and Buttler on a batting-friendly pitch – damaged England’s hopes beyond repair. Shardul Thakur accounted for Malan and Jonny Bairstow in the space of four deliveries, which left England needing 83 off the last five overs. When Eoin Morgan fell cheaply to Pandya, the task proved too much.
Going into the match with scores of 15 and 12 for the series after being rested for the first two matches, Sharma unleashed a masterclass of timing, power and elegance with an effortless-looking 64 off just 34 balls that consigned Kohli to the shade initially. No sooner had Kohli thumped Jofra Archer for a beautiful cover drive for four, Sharma signalled his intent, threading an Archer slower ball between point and cover for a boundary of his own. From there, Rohit took charge, nailing Adil Rashid over deep midwicket for the first of five sixes.
When Mark Wood came into the attack in the fourth over, India took 13 off it, including two fours that Rohit drilled straight back down the ground. Kohli brought up India’s 50 with a huge six over long leg in Wood’s next over and Rohit produced an almost identical shot three balls later. Wood, having taken 3 for 18 over the three previous powerplays he bowled in this series, ended up conceding 28 runs off two overs with nothing to show for it in this one. Rohit crashed sixes off Jordan, thudded over deep square leg, off Sam Curran to bring up his fifty having narrowly evaded Wood in the deep when his leading edge dropped short, and off Ben Stokes with an 83m hit down the ground. It was Stokes who finally made the breakthrough with a legcutter which Sharma dragged back onto his stumps to end an entertaining and valuable innings.
Kohli comes out to play
Kohli took his cue at Sharma’s dismissal and stepped into the limelight with an unbeaten 80 off 52 deliveries. He was well supported by Suryakumar Yadav, who had top-scored with 57 in the fourth match, which was just his second T20I. This time Yadav played a tidy cameo of 32, hitting not his first ball for six as he had in his previous innings, but his second and third, both off Rashid. After 10 overs, India had struck eight sixes. Only once had they hit more by the halfway stage of a T20I – 10 against New Zealand in Christchurch in 2009. Hardik Pandya was unbeaten with 39 off 17 but it was Kohli who provided the steel in an imposing India innings. He added another six to his earlier one off Wood and his seven fours, when he charged down the pitch to launch Stokes over long-on in the 13th over. He brought up his third fifty of the series with two clipped neatly through square leg off Wood and took 12 runs of Archer in the final over of the innings.
What a catch, Jordan
Chris Jordan’s torrid time with the ball was epitomised when he all but nailed his yorker to Yadav only to watch the batsman thread it nonchalantly between point and third man. Jordan managed a wry smile at the time but he brought a grin to his team-mates’ faces – none more so than Roy – with his hand in Yadav’s eventual dismissal. Yadav lofted Rashid down the ground and Jordan, running full-pelt towards the boundary to his right from long-on, stuck out his right hand and the ball stuck beautifully. That was until Jordan’s momentum continued to propel him over the rope and he had the presence of mind to lob it to Roy, waiting like a Cheshire cat at deep midwicket. The catch would go down next to Roy’s name, perhaps adding insult to the injury of Jordan conceding 57 from four wicketless overs, but his brilliance in the field was undeniable. And, while it’s little consolation, he wasn’t the only England bowler left hurting – Wood went for 53 runs from his four overs.
Malan to the fore
When Kumar had Roy out for a duck on the second ball of England’s chase, with one that swung in as the batsman charged down the wicket for an attempted slog over midwicket and clattered into middle and off, it was still India’s game. But then England showed the might of a top order that the likes of Alex Hales – historical off-field issues aside – and Joe Root can’t break into. England could have been tempted to tinker with line-up, with suggestions they should take a look at Stokes at No. 3, and they might have done had it been a dead rubber but, with the series on the line, they went with their full-strength side. Malan, the No. 1-ranked T20I batsman in the world, had not breached 25 in four innings going into the match. But his 68, combined with some power hitting by Buttler, who carted Rahul Chahar for two sixes in the eighth over and another in Chahar’s next as the bowler conceded 20 runs in seven balls, kept England in the contest.
Malan also broke Babar Azam’s record for the fastest batsman to 1000 T20I runs. Azam reached the mark in 26 innings, while Malan’s knock took him to 1003 runs in 24 innings.
It was Kumar who had put England on the back foot and he struck again when Buttler holed out to Pandya at long-off for 52 in a pivotal 13th over of the innings yielding not only the wicket but just three runs. By that stage England had fallen considerably behind at 130 for 2, compared with India’s 140 for 1. At the same time, Kumar had taken 2 for 9 from three overs to squeeze England before Thakur and Pandya accounted for Bairstow, Malan and Morgan in quick succession to leave the tourists short of answers.
Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo