A career-best 150 from Yuvraj Singh and a 10th ODI century from MS Dhoni took India to 381 for 6 in the Cuttack ODI. England, who have to win the match to stay alive in the series, had begun grandly with three wickets in five overs – including Virat Kohli for 8 – but struggled to make further inroads and were reliant on their batting strength to pull them back up.
The people inside Barabati stadium, however, would be quite happy if the bowlers finally got their dues for the remainder of the game. They had spent three and half hours in pure nostalgia with each ball that Yuvraj and Dhoni sent their way during a partnership of 256 in 230 balls. At one end, there were flowing drives with scintillating timing and from the other came brutal swats. No one was safe. Not Ben Stokes, who was winded when Dhoni whacked a ball back at his chest. Not Alex Hales, who was wringing his fingers after trying to get under a pull from Dhoni. Not even the Spidercam was spared damage.
Yuvraj wasn’t quite as murderous, or maybe he was and was just a little bit kinder to things both living and non-living on the ground. He came in at the end of the third over, enjoyed England trying to bounce him out on a pitch that barely had any in the first place and bedded in to make his first hundred since the 2011 World Cup. It came off his 98th delivery and the celebrations made it clear how much the innings meant to him. He looked skyward, with his hands aloft. Then the bat handle thumped into his chest and he may even have become misty-eyed. At 35 years, having spent three years nowhere near the ODI team, wondering what would become of his career, coming back with his highest score had to be sweet.
There was no place for such emotion with Dhoni. He was what the situation made him. When he came in at the fall of Kohli’s wicket in the fifth over, he blocked 14 straight deliveries from Chris Woakes, who was the sole reason India were 25 for 3. The next time those two faced each other, the ball was muscled over the midwicket boundary. Dhoni finished on 134 off 122 balls – having been 6 off 22 once – and became the first Indian to hit 200 sixes in ODIs. The shot – eerily similar to the one that won India the World Cup in 2011 – hit the top tier behind long-on. There was another reminder of that night in Mumbai; the final was the last time Yuvraj and Dhoni had put on 50 runs or more together.
England would have been hoping for a target far less demanding when Woakes got rid of Kohli, KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan like the light of dawn spiriting away bad dreams. The first man has been tormenting the visitors since well before Christmas. The second was the one of two players to hit centuries in all formats in 2016 and the third had made a hundred the last time there was a game in Cuttack. All three were back in the dressing room with 45 overs left.
But the clear-headed England that made all that happen fell into a trap. They bowled too short at Yuvraj, who eventually realised there was nothing in the pitch to make him fear such a line of attack. It is true that extreme has has unsettled him regardless of conditions but he didn’t have to face any on Thursday. So with him gaining fluency, Dhoni concentrating on staying at the crease to such a point that he barely even thought about singles in the early part of his innings, and a severe lack of wickets, the middle overs became party time.
India hammered 94 runs in the 10 overs between the 30th and the 40th and finished with 73 off the last five. Also responsible for the late flourish were Kedar Jadhav, a centurion from two days ago, as he belted three fours and a six in 10 balls, Hardik Pandya who began his innings with a four and six and Ravindra Jadeja, who helped take 14 runs off the final over.
Woakes finished with 4 for 60, the pick of the England bowlers, but even he couldn’t do much with the old ball on a small ground with a fast outfield. Only one of his team-mates had an economy rate under 6 – Moeen Ali – and three of the others – Ben Stokes, Jake Ball and Liam Plunkett – leaked at least eight runs per over.