Afternoon everyone and welcome to the biggest little fixture of England’s winter. It’s a mini-final in itself, the decider in a Twenty20 series that seemed beautifully balanced when it began and has now proved as much by standing at 2-2. It’s also the dress rehearsal for what may well be the T20 World Cup final in November – although the holders, West Indies, might have something to say about that, along with Australia, Pakistan and the sporting gods, who tend to scoff at long-range predictions.
India are the hosts, for the T20 World Cup as well as today’s game, and the favourites in most people’s opinion, though not Virat Kohli’s. England are the world’s top-ranked nation in T20 and, of course, the holders of the 50-over World Cup. England, helped by the toss, have twice gone ahead in this series; India have twice found an equaliser. Today’s pitch is the one on which India cantered to their first victory.
England have added an extra dimension to their game, going as hard with the ball in the first six overs as they do with the bat. India have the deeper squad, thanks to the millionaires’ bootcamp that is the IPL, and it was they who held their nerve in the one tight finish so far, although Jofra Archer was pretty cool too: after taking four wickets he sauntered out for his first T20 international innings, and made 18 not out off eight balls.
If Kohli is the biggest star in this firmament, his closest competitors are all on the other side – Archer and Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan, who has spent more time in the series holding conferences than holding a bat (26 balls faced, 32 runs made). Apart from Kohli, India’s brightest performers have been fringe players – Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav – who still sometimes find themselves left out to make room for their elders and lessers.
This has been the kind of series that neither team deserves to lose. But the one that does will be able to console itself with a thought that is familiar to anybody in the theatre: the worse the dress rehearsal, the better the show. The curtain goes up at 1.30pm GMT, and I’ll be back just after 1pm with the cast list.