If the deciding Twenty20 International were likened to a game of chess, then by winning the toss and putting India in to bat, England gave themselves the chance to start with white pieces and make the first move, a clear advantage at the M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru.
India, by the look of it, started off, by sacrificing their king, which turned out to be a mere pawn in the scheme of things. After doing all the running and making all the runs in the Test and One-Day International series, this T20 series was to be a sabbatical for Virat Kohli. His decision to open and play downright attacking cricket from the word go, was a change in his usual mindset to take the match deep, to bat through, to do it all on his own.
In many ways, this was MS Dhoni’s match. He was the prime mover, the game-maker, the most treasured piece, the Queen. Dhoni came in early, when the game was set up by KL Rahul and Suresh Raina’s early attacks.
Into the eighth over, India was 63/2 – good on paper, but not so great on this particular board that compels you play Blitz Chess. Also two key pieces had been sacrificed. England had shown their hand, and was making their move with spin and Moeen Ali – another reason for Dhoni’s promotion, also reminiscent of the move in the 2011 World Cup final against Muttiah Muralitharan.
Going into this match, Ali had spells of 2/21 and 1/20, with significant success against Yuvraj Singh. Dhoni’s promotion was vital – to keep Ali from settling into his miserly rhythm against Singh, as also to rotate the strike.
Ali ended up bowling his four overs for 30, going wicketless for the first time in the series. By the time he was done, Dhoni was settled in, 12 off 10, India were 113/2 in 13 overs. And India still had Yuvraj Singh in the bank to have a go at the seamers.
After Raina’s wicket, Dhoni hit five boundaries, without taking any risks whatsoever. He batted right through till the 20th over. It was his approach which ensured Yuvraj Singh could take a few deliveries to get his eye in rather than go at the bowling from the word go.
In the three overs from when Yuvraj came to the crease, Dhoni scored 24 runs off 14 balls. During this time, Yuvraj faced just four balls.
Yuvraj Singh explodes
But it was the next five balls that Yuvraj faced that shook the game – 6, 6, 4, 6, 1, it was close to going back to that famous day in 2007.
When he fell, India were at 177, with 11 balls to go. Dhoni was there for another over, pushing India into kissing distance of 200 with Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya.
India’s next offensive was bowling Yuzvendra Chahal’s two overs in the power play. A more vocal and demonstrative Dhoni from behind the stumps reinforced the “lines and lengths” to be bowled with an encouraging, “Yehach chahai (This is where to put it)”. Could so easily have been, “Yehach Chahal hai”
It was when the game got tricky that Kohli could be seen in serious counsel with Dhoni. While Kohli was manning the boundaries, it was Dhoni who was moving players on his chess board.
Later Kohli admitted that it was Dhoni and Ashish Nehra who urged him to bowl Jasprit Bumrah instead of Hardik Pandya.
While Chahal’s 14th over started the rot, accounting for two wickets, it was Bumrah’s 15th over that sealed it with Jos Buttler’s scalp. And once Chahal was bowled out, Bumrah returned to eke out two more wickets, finishing the match in the 17th over. Pandya didn’t have to add to his tally of two overs that accounted for a below par Joe Root’s two sixes.
England had been checkmated, as much by former chess champion, Chahal, as by Grandmaster Mahi.
It is just that the best chess moves stay hidden till they bite you in the butt. As it is pokerfaced Dhoni gives very little away.