Batting was England’s dominant arm and more muscle was added to that attribute in the lead-up to Sunday’s World Cup clash against India. On Saturday afternoon, from Edgbaston’s practice pitches, the home team’s batsmen took turns to pummel big hits into the empty stands.
When the big day arrived, Eoin Morgan’s men were ready at a packed venue from which a local supporter tweeted tongue-in-cheek: “I am one among the five per cent England fans at the ground!”
The host skipper won the toss, opted to bat and found vindication from his openers Jonny Bairstow, who hammered a century, and Jason Roy. The duo’s ballistic 160-run stand off 133 deliveries and the final punch from Ben Stokes (79) after a middle-over slow-down, laid the base for England’s 337 for seven at lunch.
Initially, Roy (66) and Bairstow (111, 109b, 10×4, 6×6) maintained a frenetic pace despite a few play-and-miss routines against Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. Roy thumped two fours off Shami’s first over but also inner-edged the speedster nearly onto the stumps. Bairstow too did a similar act, flicking Bumrah and almost chopping Shami onto his citadel. England raced to 28 for no loss in five overs and Virat Kohli in a bid to slow down the run-rate, pressed Yuzvendra Chahal into service and swapped around Shami and Bumrah’s ends.
There was no respite as it rained fours and sixes. Roy toyed with Chahal, slapping one through covers and hoisting another over mid-wicket. The opener then couldn’t resist the temptation of trying to pull a Hardik Pandya freebie down the leg-side. Roy missed, M.S. Dhoni collected, Hardik appealed in vain for a caught behind, Kohli mulled about a review but the former India captain opposed it. Seconds later the UltraEdge revealed a spike, indeed there was an edge. On 21 then, Roy instantaneously celebrated with a six and a four.
If Roy did the reverse-hits and the lofted strikes, Bairstow proved that he could dish out his own version of mayhem. A minimal back-lift often exploded into a blazing stroke and truly the fire was upon the pitch even if a sliver of smoke was sighted from the chimneys of a distant factory. Bairstow hammered the spinners and Kuldeep Yadav wasn’t spared either. The muscular blows continued unhindered and relief happened only when Roy picked the most athletic fielder from the opposition ranks while wading into Kuldeep. The heave over long-on drew a sprinting Ravindra Jadeja, substituting for an injured K.L. Rahul. Jadeja swivelled, dived and the ball dipped into his adhesive palms.
Meanwhile, Joe Root was industrious and Bairstow extended his plunder. Nerves were obvious when on 99 he missed a Pandya bouncer but the next ball was patted for a single and the belligerent batsman had his hundred. Having been caught up in a media and Twitter storm of caustic lines and verbal punches, Bairstow’s joy was evident as he flung his arms skywards. Eventually, he perished while lashing Shami straight to Rishabh Pant – who incidentally replaced Vijay Shankar in the Indian eleven – at sweeper-cover.
Subsequently, England slowed down as the bruised Indian bowlers reclaimed their voice and there was a five-over phase that yielded just 13. Morgan was peppered with bouncers and when Shami persisted, the England captain top-edged a hook. Kohli pumped his hands and yelled “come on”. Shami bowled some niggardly overs and though he was caned in the slog, he still managed a five-for.
Root and new-man Stokes had to bide their time and it took almost 10 overs before a four was essayed. Stokes tucked into Chahal, pulling and reverse-hitting. But Root couldn’t match his partner’s aggression while the two added 70 for the fourth wicket. Shami scalped Root in the death but southpaw Stokes’s audacity and Jos Buttler’s cameo ensured that the 300-mark was scaled on a perfect batting pitch.