England’s brilliance with the bat has now set the series up for Sunday’s decider. The hosts appeared shellshocked and desperately searching for answers to address their bowling woes. At one stage of Bairstow and Stokes’ 117-ball, 175-run partnership for the second wicket, the duo blasted 95 off five overs, destroying India’s bowling, which appeared toothless and clueless. Every ball seemed like a highlights package as it rained fours and sixes.
Like in the last game, England were off to a perfect 110-run start for the opening wicket by Bairstow and Jason Roy (55; 52b, 7×4, 1×6), before Roy was run out thanks to a mix-up with Bairstow and quicksilver work in the field by Rohit Sharma. Learning their lessons from the last game well, they then ensured that they didn’t suffer a collapse after a good opening partnership, as Bairstow and Stokes sunk their teeth into the Indian bowlers, smashing 17 sixes between them.
It seemed like a bunch of schoolboys were bowling to international batsmen. Much to India’s concern, their spinners were hammered for 156 runs in 16 overs— Kuldeep Yadav went for 84 in 10 overs while Krunal Pandya leaked 72 in just six.
Having missed out narrowly in the last game, Bairstow raced away to his sixth ODI hundred, but Stokes was unlucky to get out just one short of the threefigure mark when he gloved a short one from Bhuvneshwar to Rishabh Pant. Remembering his father, who expired in December last year, the left-hander looked up towards the heavens, but he had done enough to ensure England didn’t miss their talismanic batsman Joe Root at No. 3.
England suffered a mini collapse when they lost two wickets off four balls, with Prasidh Krishna cleaning up part-time skipper Jos Buttler’s stumps with a sizzling yorker, but debutant Liam Livingstone (27*; 21b, 1×6, 2×4) and Dawid Malan (16*; 23b, 1×4) added 50 in 41 balls for the fifth wicket to take them home.
Earlier, wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant, continuing his dream run in 2021, and Hardik Pandya smashed 11 sixes between them to help India plunder 126 off the final 10 overs. Playing his first ODI in 14 months, Pant showed why he can currently be rated as perhaps the most exciting batsman in world cricket as he blasted an explosive 77 in merely 40 balls, inclusive of three fours and seven sixes, while Pandya struck a few lusty blows in his 16-ball 35 cameo which comprised four ‘maximums’ and a four.
The duo built on a solid foundation provided by KL Rahul, who slammed his fifth ODI hundred (108; 114b, 7×4, 2×6), and skipper Virat Kohli, who hit his fourth fifty (66; 79b, 3×4, 1×6) on the trot in international cricket.
Rahul was the bridge between the two halves of India’s innings. Batting at No 4, he added 121 in 140 balls for the third wicket with Kohli, rotating the strike well. Sadly, it was an effort in vain.