Jonny Bairstow’s timely century and Ben Stokes’ late surge underpinned England’s 337 for seven in their crunch World Cup fixture against India at Edgbaston.
In the wake of back-to-back defeats to Sri Lanka and Australia that left England’s progression to the knockout stages in considerable doubt, Bairstow’s “people were waiting for us to fail” remarks left many bemused.
If there were any critics, Bairstow silenced them with a superb 111, the Yorkshireman and the returning Jason Roy (66 off 57 balls) putting on 160 in 22 overs for the opening wicket in a thrilling start.
England stuttered for a period thereafter as Mohammed Shami (five wickets for 69) led the recovery – but the in-form Stokes struck 79 from 54 balls as India were left needing a tournament record chase.
Jasprit Bumrah also deserves credit for conceding just 44 runs from his allotment on a pitch showing few gremlins and England may yet rue the destructive Jos Buttler not coming to the crease until the 45th over.
Having slipped out of the top four on Saturday, following Pakistan’s win over Afghanistan, England now need to win both of their remaining fixtures to guarantee semi-final qualification – and they brought back Roy following his hamstring tear.
Moeen Ali was also replaced by Liam Plunkett but England’s decision to bat first meant all eyes were on the Surrey opener, who was rapped on the hand by the economical Bumrah.
England’s openers were far from fluent early on, Roy gloving Hardik Pandya down the leg-side on 21 – only for India to decide against a review.
Roy and Bairstow were galvanised thereafter as they took the attack to Pandya and India leg-spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.
Bairstow, in particular, was withering to the turners, crunching six sixes in total, the Yorkshireman the first to his half-century off 56 balls, just about beating KL Rahul in the deep, the India fielder seemingly injuring his back.
Roy brought up his 50 off 41 deliveries but, as the scoring rate was growing exponentially, he perished after holing out to substitute fielder Ravindra Jadeja.
Bairstow moved to three figures from 90 balls soon after but both he and new batsman Joe Root started to struggle in the face of some improved Indian bowling.
Bairstow would eventually thrash to deep point off Shami, whose bouncer accounted for Eoin Morgan – the England captain failing to convince his doubters about his credentials under the shorter ball.
England’s inertia, though, was starting to become apparent as just 28 runs were added between the start of the 31st over and the end of the 39th.
Stokes upped the ante thereafter, a switch hit slog sweep travelling the distance, while Root scooped to third man to end a becalmed 44 from 54 balls, setting the stage for Buttler.
England’s finisher clubbed his second ball to the longer midwicket boundary in an entertaining eight-ball 20 – but the pervading feeling was he should have been at the crease much earlier.
Stokes was motoring along, reaching his third successive half-century off 38 balls, as England added 107 runs in the last 11 overs.