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England’s bowlers ensure the plan comes together

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A good team can adapt if things don’t go to plan. For a dominant team, things invariably do. It was a measure of England’s control of the first of five T20Is in Ahmedabad that their bowlers could stick to the blueprint that had been set throughout their 20 overs.

Coming into this series, there were legitimate questions about England’s bowlers. Despite the side’s winning streak, they have leaked runs with the new ball and at the death across the past three years, while the absence of a third spinner in their squad seemed to demonstrate an obvious lack of depth in that area.

In that light, restricting India to 124 for 7 provided an emphatic answer. Three wickets inside the first five overs through legspin and high pace set the tone, while hard lengths through the middle and more of the same at the death ensured India’s was slow and painful.

“The wicket was a bit slow so it was going to be hard to hit the length balls, but obviously if you bowl a bit fuller, then it becomes a bit easier,” Jofra Archer explained. “So the plan to everyone was just try to bowl length as long as possible and luckily for us we didn’t really have to change that – we just stuck to it.”

In particular, it was the ‘hard’ length – balls pitching around eight or nine metres from the stumps, reaching the batsman just above waist-height – which proved particularly difficult to get away. England’s seamers bowled 46 balls that pitched in that back-of-a-length region, according to ESPNcricinfo’s ball-by-ball data, conceding only 38 runs from them and taking two wickets.

Further proof of its effectiveness came through India’s boundary count in front of square against the seamers: one four through mid-on, another off the pads, and a single six over long-off. “Even some of the boundaries that they did get, there were a few through third man,” Archer said. “As a bowler, you’re happy to go for runs there as long as you don’t get hit where you don’t want to get hit. We’re at peace getting hit behind the wicket – that’s fine.”

For Eoin Morgan, it was a night where everything he tried seemed to work as captain. He had offered enough of a smirk in his pre-series press conference to hint that he had something up his sleeve in a bid to address England’s impotence in the powerplay – they had taken 18 powerplay wickets at 48.05 in the last 18 months before this series – but few had predicted the first part of his plan.

Like a poker player going all-in on the first hand dealt, Morgan threw the brand new ball to Adil Rashid, who had bowled a single powerplay over in his T20I career and hadn’t bowled the first over of a match since the 2011 Champions League. Rashid’s method was uncomplicated, and similar to his usual T20 plan: he used his googly and his slider to the left-handed Shikhar Dhawan, cramping him for room from a good length, and conceded only two runs from the first over.

Morgan opted for aggression, combining legspin with high pace in a revamped new-ball partnership by throwing the ball to Archer. He struck early: KL Rahul, who has had the better of his head-to-head with Archer in the IPL, inside-edged a wide one onto his stumps, and England had the breakthrough that had eluded them so often.

Sensing an opportunity, Morgan stuck with Rashid. As Virat Kohli backed away to the leg side, Rashid tried to cramp him from a length and push him even further towards square leg; Kohli’s bat turned in his hands as he looked to force one through the ring, and he could only pick out mid-off.

Rishabh Pant briefly threatened to throw England off, reverse-scooping Archer for six and whipping him off the pads for four more, but Archer’s nonchalant shrug in response added to the impression of calm. Morgan’s first change was seamless: Mark Wood, recalled to the side after spending the series in South Africa before Christmas on the bench, bowled every ball in his first over at above 90mph/145kph, and his sixth brought the wicket of Dhawan, clean bowled attempting to heave to leg. India were 20 for 3 after five overs, and the game was already England’s.

Morgan shuffled his deck through the middle overs, with Rashid bowling a solitary over outside the powerplay, but again the plans were clear. Wood was introduced as a ‘shock’ bowler, hitting the splice and the gloves in his final two overs, and while Shreyas Iyer coped well enough by giving himself room, Hardik Pandya’s scoring was choked by England bowling into his midriff: his only two boundaries, off Ben Stokes, were off the shortest and fullest balls he faced. Wood did not bowl a single slower ball in his four overs, while Jordan and Archer bowled one and two respectively.

And while some teams would revert to their stock death plans of yorkers and slower balls, England saw no need to change as they copied the template they had set during a win against Australia last September. Archer, Sam Curran and Chris Jordan conceded 20 runs and two boundaries between them in the final three overs, hardly attempting a single yorker.

The heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson said “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” India’s failure to land even a glancing blow showed the success of England’s.

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