England batters must take charge of ODI decider with Kohli due a big score

England batters must take charge of ODI decider with Kohli due a big score

Their summer may be yet to catch fire like their resurgent Test equivalents but after Reece Topley sliced through India at Lord’s during the week, England’s white-ball men head into an enticing one-day international decider.

Old Trafford plays host on Sunday, with the ground sold out, the mercury set to top 30C and Jos Buttler (possibly unrecognisable to Lancashire supporters these days) looking for his first series win as England’s white-ball captain. If he manages it against a team with Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami on form any early concerns about life after Eoin Morgan should evaporate quicker than Nadhim Zahawi’s support for Boris Johnson.

It may require England’s thunderbats to reassert themselves a little, however. The World Cup-winning top five have not fired during the first two ODIs and it was the support cast who made it 1-1. Moeen Ali’s 47 was as vital as it was ice-cool, so too David Willey’s 41. With Mark Wood, Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes all long-term injury absentees, and Adil Rashid having taken time out to undertake the hajj pilgrimage, Willey and Topley then stepped up with the ball impressively.

Topley’s figures of six for 24 from 9.5 overs were not simply the best for England in men’s ODIs but a heartening story to go with it. The left-armer’s attributes are alluring, be it the ability to swing the ball, the angle or the bounce from his 6ft 7in frame (something that may suit Old Trafford). But his body – chiefly his back and the blight of stress fractures – has been horribly rebellious over the years.

So much so that in 2018, ground down by the repeat injections required to simply get on the park, he felt he was “rotting away” and told Hampshire, then his county, he was done.

“These are the moments that make it all worthwhile,” he said, beaming on Thursday, having given it one last crack via surgery and been rewarded for months of rehab with a spot on the Lord’s honours board. “It’s an amazing high. I’ll ride the wave but there’s still everything to play for.”

India, meanwhile, return to the scene of their ruinous World Cup semi-final collapse against New Zealand in 2019, but win here and they will have taken the spoils in the 50-over and Twenty20 legs of this tour. Factoring in last summer’s dominance before the Tests were paused – even though it was stuck in the Bazball blender a fortnight ago for a 2-2 draw – and it would represent a successful time in the UK over the past 12 months.

Back home there is only one topic of discussion: Virat Kohli having gone 32 months and 77 innings without an international century. From the outside it is a curious drought when considering some of the crisp shots unfurled during the Test match at Edgbaston or his sweet 16 at Lord’s the other night. Watching the 33-year-old’s body language in the field, the fire in his belly also appears undimmed.

Yet somehow the misjudgments keep coming, such as the ball from Willey at Lord’s that nipped down the slope a fraction and tickled the edge of a tepid poke. It was fine work from the left-armer but – possibly – the shot of a mind in need of a break. Since the start of 2016 Kohli has played 225 internationals in all formats – 10% more than the next man, Rohit Sharma – and spent the bulk of that time as captain.

When you factor in the pressure cooker that is Indian cricket, the strains of the pandemic, his vast commercial demands and fatherhood, this lull should probably not be a total surprise. Time off is coming, at least, with Kohli and Bumrah heading home when their teammates begin an eight-match limited-overs tour of the Caribbean next week. Who knows, perhaps sick of the debate and the unctuous well-wishers, Kohli will unleash a defiant final innings before boarding that flight.

After India depart, England’s white-ball side play six fixtures against South Africa, starting in Durham on Tuesday, with the first of three ODIs. The Proteas have arrived as the cause of the latest bout of the sport’s existential angst after cancelling a three-match ODI series in Australia next year – and thus surrendering potentially vital World Cup qualification points – for their board’s latest stab at staging a franchised Twenty20 league. It’s some gamble.

But then this is the new reality, with the next future tours programme handing more time to such tournaments and bilateral ODIs, such as Sunday’s series finale, looking endangered. That said, the ICC has slated 50-over men’s World Cups for 2023, 2027 and 2031 – as well as two editions of the Lazarus-like Champions Trophy in 2025 and 2029 – and so full-blown extinction remains a way off.