India vs England: Stokes, Bairstow blitz help England level series

Stokes and Bairstow’s pyrotechnics overshadowed the power-hitting of K.L. Rahul and Rishabh Pant as England romped home with 39 balls to spare.

Jonny Bairstow's quickfire 100 set up England's scintillating run chase.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes had had a quiet, if not ordinary, India tour coming into the penultimate game on Friday. And the duo could not have asked for a better occasion than the must-win second ODI to make a sizeable contribution. Such was the audacity of Bairstow and Stokes’ onslaught that England overhauled a stiff target of 337 with 39 balls to spare.

The batting display took one back to 2017 when Virat Kohli and Kedar Jadhav had recovered from an early stutter to chase down England's target of 351. But unlike that night four years ago when the Maharashtra Cricket Association stadium was choc-a-bloc, the stands wore a deserted look due to the COVID-19 cases resurgence. But the handful of association officials, security guards and scribes who witnessed the run chase live were awestruck by Bairstow and Stokes’ dazzling strokeplay.

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Despite Bairstow and Jason Roy laying a solid foundation for the chase, the game was in the balance when Roy was run out in the 17th over, thanks to Rohit Sharma’s brilliance at short mid-wicket. At 110 for one, Stokes took guard. Bairstow did not let the scoreboard pressure mount, continuing to find gaps at will.

Stokes, Jonny run amok

In the 20th over, Stokes made his intention clear by swinging through the line and sending one over long-on. From thereon, until the left-hander fell short of what would have been a marauding hundred, Stokes and Bairstow made a mockery of the Indian bowling attack.

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There was hardly any dew. Still, the Indian bowlers looked dumbfounded by the assault. Seldom did the batsmen play a slog. Most of the sixes – 17 between the duo – they scored were in the V. Despite their clean hitting, the game was far from being sealed after 30 overs, with England requiring 143 more to win. The next five overs saw Bairstow and Stokes pounding 87 runs to put the match beyond India's reach.

Kuldeep Yadav bore much of the brunt as he conceded 37 runs in two overs. Stokes hammered 28 runs, including three sixes and two fours, off left-arm spinner Krunal Pandya in the 34th over. Bhuvneshwar Kumar had Stokes nicking one to Pant, leaving him painstakingly short of a hundred. It triggered a mini-collapse with three wickets falling in nine balls, but debutant Liam Livingstone and Dawid Malan had little trouble completing the formalities to square the series.

Rahul's ton in vain

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Stokes and Bairstow’s pyrotechnics overshadowed the power-hitting of K.L. Rahul and Rishabh Pant earlier in the day, an ideal birthday gift for India’s batting coach Vikram Rathour. The pair’s blitzkrieg, especially that of the left-handed Pant, meant India added 126 runs in the last 10 overs.

After being put in to bat and losing both the openers early, Rahul and Virat Kohli first steadied the ship. While Kohli failed to convert another fifty into a hundred, Rahul went on to make his fifth ODI ton.

But in the end, England not only won the game convincingly but also aced the mini-battle of range-hitting – tallying 20 sixes to India’s 14 – to set up an enticing decider on Sunday.

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