India hold on to set up T20 series decider despite Jofra Archer’s heroics

The first three games of this series told such similar stories that when England won the toss and put India in a fog of inevitability settled over the fourth Twenty20, a wildly inaccurate misconception that lasted as long as it took Rohit Sharma to hammer the first ball over long-off for six.

Nothing about what ensued was predictable, least of all that the key figures in India’s victory would be Suryakumar Yadav, their 30-year-old batsman playing his first T20i innings, and the often underestimated Hardik Pandya, and a classic match of oscillating fortunes and unexpected drama ended with the series poised at 2-2 with one to play.

By general consensus this was the best wicket seen in the series – though it had also been used in game one – and the dew set in early and heavy, largely neutralising the advantage enjoyed by the side batting second. “In the first three games the wicket and the conditions definitely changed in the second innings,” said Ben Stokes. “This is the best wicket we’ve had, and we knew that in the first two overs. The wicket didn’t have that up and down bounce.”

The good thing about England not winning this game is they now have to win the next one if they are to avoid losing the series, which is as close to World Cup knockout conditions as they are going to get before the real thing. “We want to win, and we want to make a habit of winning,” said Stokes. “The more situations we get put into where we’ve got pressure on us, the more we learn.”

What they will have learned from this game is that they should probably start practising their cutters, deliveries that so helped India’s seamers to prosper. With figures of two for 16 Pandya was the outstanding bowler but it was Shardul Thakur who in effect decided the game, with successive off-cutters that claimed the wickets first of Stokes and then of Eoin Morgan and left Sam Curran, who has reached double figures only once in this format, to leave the tail in search of 45 runs in a little over three overs.

There was a moment when it looked possible. Needing 22 with five balls remaining, Jofra Archer hit down the ground for four and over midwicket for six. Virat Kohli was off the pitch, a precautionary measure intended to stop a harmless twinge becoming a full-blown niggle, and after an interminable conference with the vice-captain, Rohit Sharma, Thakur sent down successive wides and seemed in a very literal sense to be losing his grip. These were wild moments, which continued when Archer heaved at the next ball and caught it with the end of his bat, which promptly fell off.

With that chunk of wood went England’s hopes, and after a mere single Chris Jordan sent the next delivery into the hands of Pandya, who made his final, match-winning intervention at long-off. It was an exhilarating infusion of drama in what had been a prosaic series.

Where previously it had been India toiling in their powerplays this time it was England, batting second, who struggled. Roy took nine balls to score and though he eventually reached a decent total it was not without luck, including at one stage two boundaries in three balls off first the inside and then the outside edge. Dawid Malan, like the hopelessly out-of-form KL Rahul in India’s innings, scored 14 runs from 17 balls, is struggling badly, and is presumably aware that of all batsmen to have played at least 10 T20 internationals in India only Kohli has a higher average than the absent Joe Root.

After his last four T20i innings had ended after an average of four balls surviving for 17 was an improvement of sorts for Rahul, even if all he really managed to do with this additional time in the middle was extend his own misery. There were a couple of nicely-hit boundaries but 14 runs at a strike rate of 82.35, for a man who before this recent run averaged 45.35 at 145.19, is a long way from a return to form. The third over, a maiden immaculately bowled by Mark Wood, summed up his current struggles.

It is not as if there is nobody auditioning for his place. In the absence through injury of Ishan Kishan, star of the second game of the series, Yadav – widely known by the acronym Sky – belatedly made his debut at No 3 and, amid expectations as lofty as his nickname, heightened by three successive seasons of Indian Premier League success, made a compelling argument for a place in India’s World Cup starting XI.

Yadav lifted his very first delivery in international cricket off his hip and over fine leg for six and the innings that followed was compiled with great style and apparently complete serenity. India were thus allowed to shrug off Kohli’s failure, the captain completely outfoxed by Adil Rashid and stumped by Jos Buttler for one, and in the process to demolish any preconceptions about what might happen in Saturday’s decider.