As was the case four years ago, England’s visit to India ended with series defeats in all three formats but only after a thrilling third one-day international in sweltering Pune in which the tourists fell agonisingly short in their pursuit of 330.
The wild punch of the air from Virat Kohli at the end of his side’s seven-run victory summed up just how tense things had become out in the middle, England having risen from the canvas at 168 for six in the 26th over through a remarkable unbeaten 95 from Sam Curran that surpassed all expectations.
Coming in at No 8, and losing Moeen Ali shortly after to slip to 200 for seven, Curran found tail-end allies in Adil Rashid and Mark Wood to push proceedings into the final over, from the left-armer T Natarajan. Only 14 runs were required off six deliveries to finish three gruelling months on the subcontinent with an almighty heist.
It was not to be, however, Curran’s slip when turning back for a second run off the first ball leading to Wood being run out for 14 and, once back on strike after a single from Reece Topley. The all-rounder was then unable to find the boundaries he craved as England finished on 322 for nine in reply to India’s 329 all out.
“The main thing was we didn’t win the game,” said Curran, having fallen five runs short of his first century in senior professional cricket. “I’m happy with how I played but I love winning. I had instructions from the dugout to take it as deep as possible but fair play to Natarajan, he nailed his six deliveries at the end.”
It was a crazed end to the tour and a relief for Hardik Pandya, whose lasered throw removed Wood. The all-rounder had earlier crackled with 64 from 44 balls but after dropping Curran in the deep on 22 he doubtless felt twitchy during the left-hander’s ice-cool 83-ball innings that belied the sweltering heat with nine fours and three sixes.
Up to this point Bhuvneshwar Kumar had been the trump card for Kohli as India punched regular holes in the England lineup, wiping out the hellraising Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow inside the first three overs and snuffing out Moeen for 29.
With the bustling Shardul Thakur knocking over the middle order on the way to figures of four for 67, Kohli affecting the last of these with a superb one-handed diving catch to dismiss Rashid, India just about continued the dominance witnessed during England’s spells in the bubbles of Chennai, Ahmedabad and Pune.
Asked to bat first once again – the toss having gone against Kohli for the 10th time during England’s visit – India went harder than before in the series, only to be bowled out in 48.2 overs. Jos Buttler, once again deputising for the injured Eoin Morgan, deployed seven bowlers and all seven struck, with Wood taking three despite visibly struggling with sickness from the 38C temperatures.
Rashid was the most expensive but his removal of both openers after a 103-run stand – Rohit Sharma bowled for 37 by a sumptuous googly and Shikhar Dhawan chipping a return catch on 67 – outweighed the damage suffered by the leg-spinner.
These strikes were followed by Moeen becoming the first spinner to bowl Kohli twice in international cricket – the India captain trying to punch one that ragged back into his leg stump on seven – and then holding a flying catch off KL Rahul at short fine leg to hand Liam Livingstone his maiden international wicket, via a rank full toss.
From 154 for four Rishabh Pant again starred with a rubber-wristed 62-ball 78 in a fifth-wicket stand of 99 with Hardik. But when Wood wiped out the lower order and Topley took the final wicket of Kumar, England were chasing par.
Kumar has been a menace in the white-ball leg of the tour, however, and though Roy middled the first two deliveries of the chase for four the right-armer lit up his bails sixth ball with an inswinger and snuffed out Bairstow lbw in his next over. Pant moving up to the stumps deserved some credit here, too.
Thereafter England’s innings kept stalling at key moments. Stokes was unable to capitalise on a woeful drop from Hardik on 15, drilling a full toss from Natarajan to deep midwicket after adding 20 more, while Buttler’s run of low scores in ODI cricket continued when Kohli successfully reviewed an lbw shout on 15.
Dawid Malan played a smart hand in a run-a-ball 50, while Livingstone briefly shone for 36. But with Thakur removing both men, and Moeen then held superbly by Hardik at mid-off, all hope seemed lost. Step forward Curran, whose stands of 57 with the No 9 and No 10 pushed this game into its frantic finish.
India nearly lost their nerve completely here, with Curran and Wood both dropped in the 49th over. But in the final clutch moments Natarajan and Pandya delivered for a 2-1 series win that followed victories in the Tests and the Twenty20s.