nother Jonny Bairstow masterclass and a simply outrageous 99 from 52 balls from Ben Stokes helped England chase 337 with six wickets and 39 balls to spare, setting up an ODI series decider against India on Sunday.
At the halfway stage, it appeared that England were in for a chastening day. They had conceded 336, set up by KL Rahul’s hundred and finished by Rishabh Pant’s brilliant 77 from 40 and Hardik Pandya’s 35 from 16 balls.
A callow England attack, missing its senior seamers, had a tough day, with Tom Curran’s 10 overs costing 83. Even when Jason Roy and Bairstow put on 110 for the first wicket, their 13th century partnership in 43 innings opening together, victory felt far from certain.
By the time Stokes was dismissed, less than 10 overs later, bounced out by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, they had 285. Stokes had reached 50 in 40 balls, then scored 49 in his next 11. Stokes smacked 10 sixes, and Bairstow – who made 94 in the opening game – was no slouch either, hitting 11 fours and seven sixes in his 112-ball 124.
Both men were stunningly poised when striking down the ground but sprayed sixes to cow and even over point, too. The spinners Krunal Pandya (six sixes in six overs that cost 72) and Kuldeep Yadav (eight sixes in 10 overs that cost 84) came in for particular punishment.
Stokes did have one moment of extreme fortune, however. On 32, he was adjudged not to have been run out when lazily running his bat in as Kuldeep pulled off a surprising direct hit from the deep. No bat appeared to be beyond the line, but the third umpire generously gave him the benefit of the doubt. He made it count.
So emphatic was the partnership that England could afford to lose Stokes, Bairstow and Jos Buttler (who had dropped a couple of catches earlier) in the space of nine balls from Kumar and Prasidh Krishna. Out came Dawid Malan and Liam Livingstone, with one ODI between them before Friday, to finish the job calmly.
In Livingstone’s case, there was considerable style involved, launching Kumar for a pair of sixes to take any sting out of the game. Livingstone played like a man who thought Sam Billings would be fit for the decider, leaving only one spot for him or Malan.
There was another tick for England, earlier in the day. Reece Topley, in for the rested Mark Wood, was comfortably the pick of the seamers (the Currans both took some punishment as the runs flowed at the death). He picked up Shikhar Dhawan in the opening powerplay, then stemmed the flow a touch with the wicket of Hardik at the death.
Topley and Livingstone deserve another shot on Sunday to stake a claim for further involvement this year, ahead of November’s T20 World Cup. Victory guaranteed that England will keep their No1 ODI ranking, whatever the outcome of Sunday’s game. Based on the series so far, that should be a belter.