India continued their sublime form in white-ball cricket when they annihilated England by eight wickets in the first of the three Twenty20 Internationals at the Old Trafford in Manchester on Tuesday (July 3).
It was a career-best performance by Kuldeep Yadav (5 for 24), who became only the third Indian bowler to pick a five-wicket haul in T20Is, which helped the visitors restrict England to 159 for 8 and then, after the loss of an early wicket, a masterclass from KL Rahul - an unbeaten 54-ball 101 - ensured India cruise home with 10 balls to spare.
A target of 160 was never going to realistically challenge the power-packed India side. Despite losing Shikhar Dhawan (5) early, Rahul ran away with the game while adding 123 runs for the second wicket alongside Rohit Sharma, who looked far from his best during his 30-ball 32. He began his innings with possibly the shot of the day - an extension of the cover drive which sailed across the fence over the head of the cover fielder. By the time the Power Play was done, India were on their way getting to 54 for 1, with Rahul accounting for 32 of them.
Eoin Morgan, the England skipper, called on his spinners to take charge as soon as the fielding restrictions were lifted. But Rahul and Rohit took them on and eked out 49 runs off the next four overs to take India's score to 103 at the halfway mark, 26 more than England. With the required rate under six, the game was virtually over.
Rahul's only blemish came early in his innings when he was offered a life on 17 by Jason Roy, who spurned a tough chance at point. From then on, Rahul never looked back and was lethal on anything short while being equally brilliant on anything pitched up. He smashed Liam Plunkett, England's most experienced seamer, for 20 runs in the 11th over to make the contest into an embarrassing lopsided one for the hosts. Against Moeen Ali, Rahul tallied for 28 off 10 balls which included two sixes and three fours. It took him only 53 balls to complete his second T20I hundred as he completed the formalities alongside Virat Kohli, who helped himself to a neat unbeaten 20.
The pre-match talk circulated around how well England will play the twin wrist spinners of India. While the hosts managed to make Yuzvendra Chahal (0 for 34) look pedestrian, eking out 16 runs from his first over which helped them race away to 44 for no loss in four overs after being put in by Kohli, it was Kuldeep who applied the brakes on the scoring rate and then bemused England through his well-disguised variations to pick three wickets in an over which turned the contest heavily towards the visitors.
England began their innings with a flurry of boundaries which came off the bat of Jason Roy (30 off 20), who hogged most of the strike during his brief stay at the crease. He, along with his opening partner Jos Buttler, added 50 runs in 29 balls to give England a rollicking start. But his eagerness for playing the pull shot off deliveries which were just short of length brought his downfall. After missing the stroke thrice, he finally got some connection - a thickish inside edge which uprooted his leg stump on the final delivery of the fifth over.
The breakthrough put a tight lid on the scoring rate as England could muster only 27 runs in the next five overs. Buttler, however, was hitting the ball well but his partner, Alex Hales, struggled to find his rhythm and chewed up far too many deliveries. Seeing the need to up the ante, Buttler took Hardik Pandya (1 for 33) for 18 runs in the 11th over to inject momentum into England's innings and also reached his seventh T20I fifty off 29 balls.
Kuldeep, who conceded only five runs in his first over, struck for the first time when he castled Hales for a painstaking 18-ball 8. Morgan followed suit soon when he played an ungainly slog off Kuldeep which was followed by the dismissals of Jonny Bairstow (0) and Joe Root (0) off consecutive deliveries in identical fashion in the 14th over. Both wanted to tap on the leg side with the spin but were defeated by the ones which straightened after pitching. After whipping the bails off in a flash on the first one, MS Dhoni took a while to gather the ball on the second one but was quick enough to complete the stumping before Root got back inside the crease.
When Pandya dismissed Moeen Ali (6), and top scorer Buttler exited two overs later, England were in danger of getting bowled out. It was David Wiley's cameo, an unbeaten 29 off 15, which lifted them a wee bit and guided them to 159 for 8 in 20 overs.