England’s Total Attack Approach Hurts India, But Lots to Play for As KL Rahul Regains Form
England’s thumping six-wicket win in the second ODI short-circuited the triumphalism of Indian fans after Virat Kohli & Co had won the first handsomely. Chasing 336 is not easy, even in these days where 300-plus scores have proliferated, but England managed this with an astonishing degree of ease. Regrouping strongly after the first match setback, the visiting team showed all the qualities that define a World Cup winning side, and currently also ranked no.1 in the format. Captain Eoin Morgan was a last minute loss because of injury, but this didn’t have any impact on the team.
The `total attack’ approach in batting, Morgan’s legacy to contemporary cricket, paid rich dividends even in his absence. In the first match, England had faltered badly chasing 317, losing by 66 runs in spite of a 135 runs first wicket partnership. Some thought that in the second match, the approach would be more cautious; in fact it was more audacious.Jonny Bairstow, strokeless, bewildered and blundering in the Test series, has reached full bloom in the ODIs, following up his 94 in the first match with a rousing 124 in the second. But it was Ben Stokes’s brutal 99 – off just 52 balls, with four fours and 10 sixes — which was the more crucial winning the second match.
This was manic hitting which left India dead beat by the time he was dismissed. The result of the match had been sealed in his 177 runs partnership with Bairstow. Throughout this tour, and across formats, Stokes had not looked the mighty player he is known to be in the past couple of years. While not struggling, he had certainly been subdued, which helped India psychologically to a large extent.Great all-rounders play a key role – with bat, ball or both – in influencing outcome of matches in their team’s favour. Stokes, considered in the category of Botham, Imran, Kapil, Hadlee and Kallis, had hardly looked the part so far in the series.
Barring a half century in the first Test in a fruitful partnership with Joe Root that helped England to a mammoth 587, Stokes had been unable to do this. He’d had a few sparkling knocks in the white ball series’s, but unfulfilling where the team cause is concerned. In the second ODI, he was at his belligerent, brilliant best, giving a reminder that his status as the world’s best current all-rounder wasn’t an exaggeration.Notwithstanding Friday night’s disappoining result, India still had something major to gain from the match. This was K L Rahul’s return to form. In the first match, Rahul had shrugged off the strain of low scores that had been trailing him with a smash-hit half century. In the second, he went one better, getting into three figures to suggest that he had overcome the trepidations and self-doubts that had been dogging him.
For this, credit is due to the team management which backed Rahul to the hilt despite his failures in the T20s and a growing clamour for him to be replaced. Skipper Kohli particularly showed strong support for the dashing batsman, saying that a few failures was no reflection of his calibre.Such encouragement is vitally important in helping a player tide over temporary loss of form. If the team management, especially the captain, shows faith when a player is growing through a crisis, it could lead to even more erosion in confidence, and more failures.Given the preponderance of talent available now in Indian cricket, more so when playing at home, replacements for players not doing well can be easy. This is where the team management’s role becomes critical. If it sees a particular player as critical in the larger game plan – current and immediate future – it must ensure against losing the player.
From India’s point of view – and keeping in mind the T20 World Cup to be played in the second half of the year –– Rahul’s presence in the squad is vital, as highlighted by Kohli. He has the kind of skills and approach necessary for the shortest format. Also experience, which is always high value in a major tournament.Of course, this trust reposed is transactional, in that the player concerned has to repay this with performance, and swiftly. The `deal’ can’t be open-ended and one-sided: certainly not when there is so much competition for places in the team. Rahul is the beneficiary, but this lesson holds true for every player in the squad – established or new.Meanwhile, we head to the climax of the ODI series. It could still be won by India, but it won’t be a cakewalk. Like the T20 contest, this rubber too has become a tight contest and Sunday’s decider could be a humdinger.