As Kedar Jadhav scored his second One-Day International hundred, Virat Kohli walked across to him. There was a fist bump, a hug and the skipper talked to his partner. The chat went on for quite a few seconds, even before Jadhav had a chance to raise his bat to the home crowd and celebrate his achievement. It isn’t too much to assume that the duo talked about how the job wasn’t done yet, but maybe, away from the prying world, more was said.
“What a terrific innings by Kedar. We have seen his potential in the series against New Zealand. He almost won us a game in Delhi. That’s the chat we had – to rectify the mistake and take the team over the line,” said Kohli afterwards.
This match was a marker in Indian cricket history, and not only because of their third-highest chase in ODIs. When the game began, it was about Kohli taking over the reins in limited-overs, and assuming complete command of the direction he wants to take this team in. By the end of the day, it became quite apparent what that would be – intensity will be the watchword, as evident in the manner Jadhav matched Kohli’s desire for victory. It was all the more stunning that they did it from a precarious 63/4, chasing 351.
Getting to that stage itself concealed a story and the main protagonist herein was Kohli himself, again. On a pitch with a green tinge, ample bounce and not much spin, there wasn’t any doubt in opting to bowl first. England would have done the same, albeit their temptation was more to do with the small ground and its short boundaries.
They got off to a great start, despite losing Alex Hales early. The tempo that Jason Roy provides at the top of their batting line-up is breath-taking. Sure, it isn’t something new, for slam-bang in the early overs is a product of limited-overs cricket since the nineties. But English cricket has never adhered to that norm, and this is why it is refreshing to see an opener from that country do what is par-for-course in ODI and T20I cricket.
This was the seventh time since the 2015 World Cup that England crossed the 300-mark in ODIs. They have breached 350 regularly in this time frame too. It is no coincidence that this aggressive phenomenon intersects with Roy’s arrival on scene. Then, there is Ben Stokes as well, the epitome of this English aggression across formats.
During the Test series, he seemed overburdened, almost as if the conservative nature of Alastair Cook’s leadership style heaped pressure on him to be the torchbearer of any hostile play. In Pune, he seemed liberated off this burden and his hard-hitting nature revelled in this freedom down the order.
Never mind that the Indian top-order collapsed during the run-chase, the ease of India’s win would suggest that the 350-target was not enough on this pitch. It puts the spotlight on one particular passage of play in the English innings, after Eoin Morgan was dismissed in the 27th over, when Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja and Kedar Jadhav pulled things back to a certain extent.
On his first full day in the job then, Kohli showed how he is different from MS Dhoni. Early when Roy was blasting the bowlers, or at this juncture of Morgan’s wicket, the former skipper would have deployed his part-timers for long and looked to reduce the burden on his premier bowlers to increase their efficiency.
Kohli did the opposite. He didn’t use the part-timers until the 26th over, and immediately when the wicket fell, he reverted to Pandya and Jadeja, a ploy borrowed from the Test arena wherein too he backs his full-time bowlers to do the job. But for this control in the second-third of English innings, the target could easily have been 380.
“It’s not supposed to be this easy,” said Nasser Hussain, on air, as Kohli then smacked his way to yet another dominant hundred. It was routine for him, almost a remembrance of the umpteen chases he has pulled off in this awe-inducing fashion. And yet, he finds ways to push the bar even higher. If most, not all, of those run-chases came in the company of top-order batsmen, this was a tougher proposition after an uncharacteristic opening stand and the loose dismissals of Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni.
“At 60/4, yes, I was still thinking about the win. The moment I saw Kedar striking well, I told him let’s get to 150/4, and they will hit the panic button. Just you watch,” said Kohli afterwards.
This is the other angle of his leadership herein. It is not to say that under Dhoni, the Indian Test team didn’t want to win. But the burning desire to give everything on the field for just one outcome, and ignore the other two, has been invoked by Kohli. It is the underlining reason for India’s rise in the longer format over the past two years, and this Pune ODI was but a microcosm of the impending transfer of this winning mentality to the limited-overs arena.
And at this juncture, the narrative became all about Jadhav. He is part of this process of transformation that Kohli has taken charge of, and his belief is infectious, period. When the innings was faltering, there was only one way to go about the run-chase, like Kohli outlined.
There wasn’t an iota of doubt in Jadhav’s innings that he needed to step on the pedal, and indeed for a considerable part of that 200-run partnership, he was outscoring his more illustrious partner.
Let it be said here that this Indian win – and Kohli’s hundred therein – wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. The skipper needed someone to stay with him at the crease, and mind the scoring rate at the same time. With four down, the target might as well have been 380, even 400. It was a humongous ask off any batsman.
That Jadhav did so whilst minding the alternate consequences, and pulled it off, reflects on the player he can be for this team. Kohli mentioned the failed 243-run chase in Delhi, yes? This was Jadhav making amends for the same, and showcasing that his learning curve is slowly starting to bear fruit. That he can be the calm-headed finisher the team management has been looking for, one whose presence allows the Dhoni-Yuvraj combination to bat adventurously higher up the order.
As such, this match-winning knock was a pertinent pointer that India have solved their quest for a steady No. 6 batsman.