This will again be the focal point when India, down 1-2, look to level the series in the fourth T20I in Ahmedabad on Thursday night.
The injury-plagued Mark Wood, who missed the second match, and Jofra Archer have been India’s bugbears, with some assistance from Chris Jordan. With their reliance on pace and the ability to hit the deck constantly at upwards of 140 kmph, they have deconstructed India’s top batsmen with clinical efficiency. In the process, they also seem to have shown the rest of the world what it takes to shackle Indian batsmen during Power Play, offering another option beyond swing to get the job done.
In the series opener, India were restricted to 22/3 in Power Play, amongst their lowest scores in the first six overs ever. In the second match, with Ishan Kishan opening the innings alongside KL Rahul, the home side were 50/1 at the six-over mark, batting second. But they failed again on Tuesday night, crashing to 24/3 on batting first for the second time in three matches.
While the top order has perished early, boundaries too have been few and far between. Wood (4) and Archer (3) have shared seven wickets but more importantly, they have struck at crucial junctures to put their team in a position of strength. Archer came up with a match-winning 3/23 in the opener, complemented by Wood’s 3/31 in the third contest.
Outlining his role in the team, 31-year-old Wood on Tuesday said, “My role in the team is to try and bang it on a good length and make something happen. We have some fantastic death bowlers – Archer and Jordan – but I can do the role.”
Thursday’s match is a must-win for India if they are to stay in contention in the series. In the larger scheme of things, these are among the few T20s in India’s schedule before the World Cup at home in October-November, and Virat Kohli & Co will be keen to tie up the loose ends.
A misfiring Rahul, who has opened with three different partners – Shikhar Dhawan, Kishan and Rohit Sharma – in as many matches, will have to find form quickly, especially given the open support offered by the team management. His return to run-scoring ways could be the answer to England’s menacing pace and probing lengths.
While the focus has been on the Indian batting, the bowlers haven’t been in peak form either. Where England have come out all guns blazing in Power Play, India will fret over having conceded 151 runs (50, 44, 57) in three matches and accounted for just two wickets in that 18-over pocket. They will have to bring their A game to the table and strike before the powerful English line-up settles down.