It was a good game to lose but preferably not by such a monumental margin as 90 runs. England, in pursuit of 171, were hapless and clueless against the Indian spinners and were bowled out for their lowest-ever T20 total. Between them Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla, currently the second string of Indian spinners, took six wickets for 25 runs from eight overs. It was not very pleasing for Stuart Broad and his side, though afterwards the England captain could remind us "we are still on the bus to Kandy".
Everyone had been so impressed by England's campaign up until now but their old frailties against Asian spin resurfaced with a vengeance. They batted so badly that a certain pundit in the Cricket Extra studio must have found it difficult to say anything polite about batsmen who were trying to do his job in the England middle order.
The other sides in the tournament would also have been looking on and making notes, the gist of which must have been: "How many spinners have we got in our squad? Let's play them all against England." Harbhajan duped callow batsmen, mostly through subtle changes of pace. Chawla's leg-breaks were indecipherable from his googlies. England were startled rabbits in the floodlights.
The rot set in when Irfan Pathan swung the new ball into the right-handed batsmen. Alex Hales swung and missed in the manner of a No11 – in fact Steven Finn would have been embarrassed by such a stroke. Luke Wright was lbw attempting to pull. Only Craig Kieswetter could middle the ball – provided the pace bowlers were operating.
Eoin Morgan, who has not been at his most fluent out here, was confounded by Harbhajan's quicker ball. So was Jos Buttler. Jonny Bairstow slogged and missed in the manner of Hales. Tim Bresnan recalled the old notion that Yorkshiremen are a tad uncomfortable against wrist-spin. It was ugly in the extreme. In the space of a dozen overs England had cunningly and emphatically restored their role as underdogs in this tournament.
The magnitude of this result will cause a few shudders. However, in the cold light of day (which does not exist over here) this thrashing does not matter too much provided the management can get the batsmen back on an even keel before England's next match against West Indies (or, in their dream world, Ireland) on Thursday.
West Indies may pluck out Samuel Badree, a little-known wrist spinner, to accompany Sunil Narine for the game at Pallekele. The Kiwis will undoubtedly unleash Daniel Vettori and Nathan McCullum, who are, at least, conventional spinners.
Meanwhile there is work to do for Graham Gooch and Andy Flower, not so much in a technical overhaul but in the restoration of confidence.
Before Broad's tour took a little jolt downwards he opted to bowl first. The Indians somehow seemed more adept against the pace of Finn than the Afghans had been in England's first game. Finn was briefly back to his old ways. Soon his right knee clattered into the stumps, whereupon he ended up in an undignified heap on the pitch after delivering the ball.
Finn did remove Pathan's off-stump with a full, fast, straight ball. However there was never any danger of Virat Kohli missing any straight balls. He is the new darling of Indian cricket but he has earned that status with a long sequence of glittering innings in one-day games. There were plenty of adoring supporters who had made their way to Colombo. For a moment it was as if Sachin Tendulkar was making his way to the crease.
Kohli began with exquisite drives through the offside, classical strokes that would never be out of place in a Test match. Currently he looks as if he has oceans of time, even in a T20 game. He did not play an ugly stroke. Only Graeme Swann, Broad's most effective bowler, could check Kohli and he eventually removed him. For once Kohli was deceived and he drove an off-break straight into the hands of Bairstow at deep midwicket. England could have done with another skilful spinner on Sunday night – but this was the time to experiment.
Fortunately for England Gautam Gambhir could not bat quite so fluently. There was a Machiavellian case for keeping him in but in the 16th over a fairly cunning slower ball from Finn found the outside edge and Gambhir departed.
On his departure India accelerated via Rohit Sharma, who cracked 55 from 33 balls. From their last four overs they amassed 51 to leave England with a target of 171. There was another gem in the field in the final over by Buttler. He caught a skier from MS Dhoni at deep midwicket and managed to lob the ball in the air as his impetus began to take him over the boundary. Hales was on hand to complete the catch – routine brilliance from Buttler.
England had replaced Samit Patel with Bresnan, presumably for two reasons. The Indians have always been deft players of spin and Bresnan is in need of a bit of rehabilitation. The Yorkshireman was a regular in Paul Collingwood's winning side in the Caribbean two years ago but currently faces a challenge from Jade Dernbach. But the chances of England maintaining a four-man pace attack throughout the tournament must be slim. They will juggle again in Pallekele. But they do not have so many options in their batting line-up.
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image: © Graham Dean