England somersaulted and cartwheeled their way to a stunning and historic thrashing of India in Adelaide to storm into the T20 World Cup final, as Alex Hales and Jos Buttler took on the world’s best-supported and most lavish side and played with them like a cat. can a ball of wool, making them look about as menacing.
Waiting in Melbourne on Sunday, Pakistan will not have enjoyed what they saw of their opponents here. England reached 170 with all 10 wickets and four overs remaining, Hales (who scored 86 off 47) and Buttler (80 off 49) produced not only the greatest but in some ways you like the best opening partnership in England’s Twenty20 history. By the end, India were a shambles, their performance summed up by England completing a four, vanishingly rare in this format, after Mohammed Shami set up and tried to throw the ball to a teammate but missed, and by Suryakumar Yadav driving back from mid-on off and not only fails to catch Buttler but instead manages to scoot the ball another 10 yards to the rope.
Poor Phil Salt, slated to come in at No.3 but not necessary. Having watched every game so far from the sidelines, he was selected to replace Dawid Malan, but still had to watch most of the game from the sidelines. It is now impossible to question England’s decision to favor Hales as opener, and since they reached a position of having to win every remaining match he has made 52, 47 and now 86 at an average strike rate of 158. This was a remarkably controlled innings, where he scored at pace but appeared in no rush, and his best shots were not only handsome in their execution but impeccable in their timing. India, for example, would have hoped to use their spinners to check England’s run rate, but twice, against Axar Patel and Ravichandran Ashwin, Hales disabused them of that idea by sending a stroke sweep into the crowd.
Buttler, meanwhile, had promised to show no fear of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, against whom he had a particularly poor record in the past. He scored 13 runs off the seven balls he faced from the 32-year-old, hitting three fours from the bowler’s first over, and after his second ended with Hales dancing down the wicket to hit over long-off for six, Kumar was sent to field on the boundary , never to return. With the finish line head in sight Buttler sprinted for it; after making 45 off his first 34 deliveries, he added 35 off his last 15, including the six that ended it.
The ground that witnessed England’s worst moment in white-ball cricket, against Bangladesh in 2015, thus witnessed what might just be the 2019 World Cup final from their best. This was a night when a side that hadn’t quite hit top gear at any stage in this tournament suddenly became hyper.
Although Virat Kohli scored another half-century, it was Hardik Pandya, with a 33-ball 63, who was most responsible for dragging India to what appeared to be a reasonable total with a string of boundaries towards the end of their innings – and that would have been another had he not stepped into the stumps driving the last ball towards the rope. But rather than striking terror in England, his innings only inspired hope – Buttler saying afterwards that Pandya had just “shown what a good wicket it was”.
Pandya’s innings at least turned a mere humiliation into a pure emphatic bang. For much of their 20 overs, India were simply pedestrian, both soothed by excellent bowling – Adil Rashid was outstanding, going five overs and taking Yadav’s key wicket, and Chris Jordan replacing the injured Mark Wood taking three wickets in his first match of the tournament – and a baffling lack of ambition with the bat.
England’s three previous chases in the competition, against Afghanistan, Ireland and Sri Lanka, were all uncomfortable but this was a transformed team. They took a completely different approach to their innings to India, in that they tried to score quite quickly at the start of it. They still had 10 balls left of the powerplay when they matched India’s six-over total; they reached 50 off their 29th ball, when it had taken India 43. Halfway through their innings, India had made 62 off 60 balls; England was at 98.
It was a spectacular vindication of Buttler’s decision at the toss to chase, which even if his instinct was mostly out of step with the new consensus that has settled over this tournament. It seemed to be this consensus that informed India’s innings – only one team here, and none at all in the Super 12s, had successfully chased more than 160, therefore 168 would be an excellent score. England on the other hand had been salivating positively over the state of the wicket for three days and believed there could be more runs in it. It turned out they were right.
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