Powered by brilliant performances from Kuldeep Yadav and KL Rahul, India opened their England tour with a thumping eight-wicket victory in the Twenty20 International at the Old Trafford Ground on Tuesday.
It was an evening when the Men in Blue didn’t put a foot wrong. First, the Indian spinners delivered according to the script before Rahul powered the chase to make it a no-contest.
Jos Buttler waged a lone battle with a brisk 69 but Kuldeep punctured the innings with a career-best haul of five for 24 to restrict the hosts to 159 for eight.
Then, in an exhibition of dazzling strokeplay, Rahul blasted a hundred off 53 balls to take India home in 18.2 overs. All the confidence England batsmen had gained from their high-scoring efforts in the just-concluded series against Australia evaporated by the end of this game.
Playing spin was the battle the home team were dreading and proof came in the first 14 overs after Virat Kohli won the toss and put England in.
In the first hour of their series opener itself, Kuldeep exposed England’s spin frailties with a fifer that included three wickets in four balls.
Bowling the 14th over, Kuldeep silenced the home crowd with wickets off the first, third and fourth balls.
Skipper Eoin Morgan was his first victim, holing out to midwicket for a six-ball seven. Jonny Bairstow was bamboozled by a wrong ’un for a first-ball duck. Joe Root met the same fate and walked back embarrassed as Dhoni had enough time to complete the stumping though he had failed to collect on first attempt and the ball seemed to get stuck under his helmet grille.
England got an early breakthrough when Shikhar Dhawan was bowled off an inside edge but that was their only real success. Rahul produced an innings of such class that Rohit Sharma was reduced to a mere spectator at the other end.
The two put on 123 runs out of which Rohit’s contribution was 32 (30 balls). Rahul was batting on 89 (off 42 balls) when Rashid ended the second-wicket partnership. By then, India needed just 30 off 44 balls.
The Karnataka player, who was not a certainty in the playing XI till he was preferred over Dinesh Karthik, batted in top gear from the start. Rahul hit a six off the third ball he faced, by opening the face of the blade to a full Chris Jordan delivery and helping it over the cover with glorious bat swing.
The contrast was no more visible in the performance of the two teams’ spinners. The Indian spinners had made life miserable for England in the middle overs; Rahul and Rohit plundered 49 runs off the first four overs, from sixth to 10th, bowled by leggie Adil Rashid and off-spinner Moeen Ali.
Rahul delivered the knockout punch in the 11th over when he targeted Liam Plunkett for special treatment by plundering 20 runs. It was not just about the runs but the quality of strokeplay which would have got to the England players. There was a flicked six followed by a glorious cover drive for both of which he held the pose after completing the strokes.
The only false stroke by Rahul came when he cut David Willey uppishly to point, but Jason Roy spilled the chance and with it the match.