Kolkata: Indian skipper Virat Kohli is known for looking his opponents in the eye - but he also is a sport when it comes to acknowledging any extraordinary performance from his rivals. Jonny Bairstow, who was simply unstoppable on course to his 124 in the second match in Pune along with Ben Stokes, drew unconditional praise from Kohli after England squared the ODI series 1-1 on Friday night.
“We did falter a bit at times but mostly, that was some of the best hitting that you’ll ever see. We never had a chance during their (Bairstow-Stokes) partnership, that’s how good they were,” Kohli said at the post-match presentation.
The explosive starts that Bairstow and in-form Jason Roy had been giving the visitors in the ODI series (two back-to-back 100-plus partnerships so far) meant that the Indian think tank will be desperate to separate them early if they have to harbour any hopes of winning the three-match series by prevailing in the final game on Sunday.
The Indian pacemen, who excelled in the first game to keep their control despite the dew and ran through the English middle-order, looked easy meat in the second encounter. It was almost a sorry sight to see Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav failing to pose any questions to the English batsmen and being carted around for three sixes on the trot in one over by Stokes. He and Krunal Pandya went for as many as 156 runs in their 16 overs while in comparison, England’s experienced spinners Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid handled the challenge much better.
Kuldeep looks set to be replaced by leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, a favourite of Kohli, on Saturday but even he had been far from impressive in the initial games of the T20 series before being dropped.
The Indian pacers have performed relatively well, though they have not been effective with the new ball in both games. Newcomer M. Prasidh Krishna, who returned a haul of four for 54 in the first ODI on debut, admitted that they need to take early wickets. “Personally I would like to start better. I would like to improve on how I have been starting, bowling with the new ball,” he said.
The home team’s batting has, however, looked good touch with KL Rahul coming good at number four with a classy century on Friday and Rishabh Pant scoring a swashbuckling 77 off 40 deliveries. Focus will also be on Kohli, who has scored four consecutive half-centuries in ODIs now but has failed to convert them into three figures, though he said he was not unduly bothered about it. Asked about his conversion rate, given the fact that he had scored his last century in end-2019, he talked down Murali Karthik - former Indian spinner and now a TV pundit down on Friday. ‘‘I don’t play cricket for personal landmarks. At the end of the day, if the team doesn’t do well, then a three-figure knock is of no use,’’ Kohli observed.
Another high-scoring thriller looks to be on the cards on Sunday - let’s wait and watch to find out who has the last laugh.
Catch the match
India vs England
Third One-day International, Pune
Match starts at 12 noon UAE.