Nagpur T20: Can Kohli and Co. keep the series alive?

If India is to avoid conceding a series at home — a rare feat across formats — its batsmen will have to outshine the England batsmen and then hope the bowlers also come to the party.

K. R. Deepak

The Indian players during a practice session at the Vidarbha Cricket Association stadium in Nagpur, on the eve of the second T20 match against England.   -  K. R. Deepak

Instead of heading from the practice nets to India’s change room, the triumvirate of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, K. L. Rahul and Yuvraj Singh headed to the middle of the Vidarbha Cricket Association stadium on the outskirts of the Orange City. After having a brief look at the strip for Sunday’s second Twenty20 International against England, the troika set themselves up for a batting stint on a wicket adjacent to the match strip for a substantial period of time.

Perhaps the exercise — with throwdown specialist D. Raghavendra and bowling coach R. Sridhar hurling the white ball through the scoop at various angles — was to get accustomed with an unusually long boundary, at Jamtha, for an Indian cricket field. But the kind of angles the trio, especially Dhoni, faced did give a hint that he was actually trying to find a way out of the England bowling muzzle that stifled the burly hitter from getting away in the death overs, mid-week in Kanpur.

An all-round England attack not only got an impressive plan in place but — more importantly — also executed it to near-perfection to not let any of the India batsman take the game away. The England bowling was the main reason for the visitor leading the three-match series going into Sunday’s encounter.

If India is to avoid conceding a series at home — a rare feat across formats — its batsmen will have to outshine the England batsmen and then hope the bowlers also come to the party.

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The pace quartet of young left-arm bowler Tymal Mills, white ball specialist Chris Jordan, seasoned Liam Plunkett and all-rounder Ben Stokes varied the pace, bowled perfect yorkers and wide yorkers — a potent weapon — and also used the angles effectively. Mills, for instance, bowled around the wicket to cramp Dhoni for room, something that he was seen training for on Saturday afternoon.

What came as the icing on the cake was Moeen Ali at his restrictive best with off-spin, registering his best figures in T20Is. That captain Eoin Morgan didn’t have to employ the leg-breaks of Adil Rashid right through India’s 20 overs speaks volumes about the effectiveness of other bowlers.

Besides overcoming the England bowlers, Virat Kohli will also have to get the combination right if India is to keep the series alive. Kohli’s promotion to the top of the batting order on Thursday gave Suresh Raina an opportunity to bat at his favourite No. 3 position. However, with Rahul struggling for form, India couldn’t really get off to a flier.

As a result, Mandeep Singh and Rishabh Pant — the two reserve batsmen in the squad who are primarily openers in the shortest form — may come into the fray. Both had an extended run with the willow at the start of India’s nets. It would be interesting if India decides to draft in either of them in place of Manish Pandey, with a licence to cut loose.

In the bowling department, the long boundaries will surely tempt the team management to draft in leggie Amit Mishra in place of Parvez Rasool. Two leggies who are different in styles will make India’s spin attack an aggressive one. With the challenge of keeping the series alive, that could well be the right approach, come Sunday evening.

The teams (from):

India: Virat Kohli (capt), K. L. Rahul, Mandeep Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, Amit Mishra, Parvez Rasool, Yuzvendra Chahal, Manish Pandey, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ashish Nehra.

England: Eoin Morgan (capt), Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Sam Billings, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Jake Ball, Tylam Mills, Chris Jordan and David Willey.

Match starts at 7 p.m.