PUNE, Jan. 16: Chases can be tricky. And when you're chasing a big total under lights, the equation tends to become all the more skeptical. In their first match of 2017, a rejigged England side playing a different format, in order to erase the painful memories of the Test defeat, did whatever one could have asked of them. They put up their highest score in the country - a daunting 350/7 - and yet it wasn't enough to stop India, who on the back of match-winning centuries from skipper Virat Kohli and Kedar Jadhav, pulled off a miraculous chase to take a 1-0 lead in the series. In fact, it was the fourth-highest successful chase of all-time.
Miraculous; because India crawled their way back from 63/4 to eventually win the match by three wickets. The match almost brings back fond memories of the NatWest Trophy 2002 final - also against England - where India had chased down 325 from being 146/5. Kohli and Jadhav were anchors of a game-changing 200-run partnership between them. Only twice before had India chased a target of or over 350 and what better occasion to kickstart 2017 adding another to the list?
The Kohli-era couldn't have begun any better.
Considering India had to go at over 7.5 an over, their start was underwhelming. Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul fell early to David Willey. Out walked Yuvraj Singh on his comeback to the Indian ODI setup and made his intentions a clear with a six and a four off the left-armer. Another glance towards the fine-leg boundary took him to 15 off 11 but a repeat of it saw him tickle one to Jos Buttler.
Then came a poor shot from MS Dhoni, and a big wicket for England. India were four down for 63 and in most cases, out of it. But standing between England and win was Kohli, who had found an ally in Jadhav; the same Jadhav who had received an earful from Kohli for throwing his wicket away back on debut during the Sri Lanka series in 2014. Perhaps the thrashing was still fresh in his mind. Hence, not only did Jadhav opt to give Kohli credible support, he even outdid him in terms of strike-rate. If you thought chasing was Kohli's thing, think again. Despite the skipper holding one end, it was Jadhav who triggered the counter-attack.
How often does one overshadow Kohli with the kind of form he is in? Well, Jadhav did; on his home ground and to an extent where Kohli took the backseat and let Jadhav toy with the bowling. Adil Rashid bowled short of length and Jadhav pulled him for fours and sixes. When the legspinner tossed it up full, he sent him towering over his head. The lofted six over the cover boundary made for magical viewing.
The same confidence from Jadhav allowed Kohli to then take center-stage. He had already scored four boundaries and two sixes before Jadhav joined him so resuming the assault wasn't going to be much of an issue. He did so with a six off the part-time of Joe Root; and that opened the floodgates. Rashid, Root and Moeen Ali, neither was spared. Nor was his best-friend Ben Stokes, or even England's most economical bowler Chris Woakes, off whom Kohli chipped a delivery that was on the rise for an almost physics-defying six.
Kohli reached his century but 22 runs later holed out to Willey ending the massive stand. As Jadhav remained the key, he was hampered by bouts of cramps, but he fought it to bring up his second ODI century off just 65 balls, and India closer to win. He went down playing a pull but followed it with a six and four off Stokes bringing the difference between runs needed and balls left to three.
The big moment arrived soon. Jadhav connected sweetly but found the fielder at deep-midwicket with India still 60 away. Ravindra Jadeja had shown his capability with the bat during the England Tests, and India needed it today more than ever. A couple of fours narrowed the equation but another strike from Jake Ball of Jadeja kept the game open for England. Hardik Pandya and R Ashwin however, showed no nerves and wiped off the remaining 33 runs. Pandya, who had already picked up two wickets and taken two catches, hit three crucial boundaries and a maximum, before Ashwin finished things off with a six of his own.
Eoin Morgan''s side was powered by impressive knocks from Jason Roy and Root, and a whirlwind half-century from Stokes towards the latter-half, that set the base for England's 350/7.
England scored 115 in the final 10 overs. That they struck a crucial partnership every time a big wicket went down meant that they never squandered the early advantage provided by Roy at the top. India on the other hand, conceded 22 extras that included four no-balls.
India's new captain called it right and opted to do something he excels at. Chase. The surface resembled a dry look, and with patches of green on it, gave an impression of assisting bowlers; though it had no bearing on Roy. He opened his account with a steer past second slip for four and followed it with a couple of booming cover drives off Hardik Pandya.
Having survived a leg-before shout to a review, Roy began timing the ball exquisitely. A defensive push on the leg saw the ball race away towards the vacant area between the deep midwicket and deep extra cover boundary. Alex Hales' innings was run-out to a wonderful direct hit from Jasprit Bumrah - caught guilty of ball watching - but Roy continued to find the boundaries. With the pace attack blunted, Kohli turned to his two best options for spin. Ashwin and Jadeja, both of whom hadn't bowled in ODIs since 15th and 23rd January last year, were made to operate in tandem. Roy and Root turned to sweeps and paddles.
Roy raced to his 50 off 36 balls. Then Jadeja struck. He pitched the ball halfway down the surface, to which Roy stepped out but missed connecting. Dhoni's lightning quick stumping did the rest. Skipper Morgan launched Jadeja for a towering six over deep midwicket to help ease off some nerves but after a couple of boundaries, perished. Trying to guide Pandya towards third-man, Morgan offered a faint edge, which initially went unnoticed by the umpire. The captain lurking in Dhoni took the review straightaway and was proven right.
Root brought up his half-century off 72 balls. Ashwin's expensive returns of 0/63 in eight overs meant that Kohli had to turn to Jadhav and Yuvraj but to no avail. Buttler struck a few hefty blows but he too couldn't cash in on his start and gave it away for 31.
England lost another set batsman when Root was caught at long on but despite that, the run-rate touched six. They were helped by India's ground fielding and in particular: three waist-high no-balls from Bumrah, who went for 28 during his seventh and eighth over. Stokes, who came after the fall of Root's wicket, in no time, notched up the quickest fifty by an Englishmen against India (off 33 balls). His wicket for 62 somewhat controlled the damage but despite that, England scored 33 in the final three overs.
Brief scores: India 356/7 (Virat Kohli 122*, Kedar Jadhav; Jake Ball 3/67) beat England 350/7 (Joe Root 78, Jason Roy 73; Hardik Pandya 2/46) by 3 wickets.(TOI)
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