THERE seems something slightly incongruous about the national anthem being played before a game of T20 cricket.
The strains of God Save The Queen imbue the occasion with a level of importance it does not quite deserve, even accounting for the format’s popularity.
A 20-over thrash – unless it is in the World T20, perhaps – is more about the entertainment value than any collective feelings of national pride.
T20 is not the Ashes, after all, and nor does it pretend to be anything it is not; despite the professionalism of its participants, it is all about run-scoring fireworks and pulling in the crowds.
Nowhere is T20 more enthusiastically embraced than in India, where a capacity crowd of 40,000 in Nagpur yesterday created the usual party atmosphere.
One never fails to be struck by the sea of smiling faces that beam out from the television screen, a joyful sweep of humanity from first ball to last.
That joyfulness is more pronounced, of course, when India win, which they have been doing quite a lot against England lately.
A 4-0 triumph in the Test series was followed by a 2-1 success in the one-day campaign, and a five-run win for the hosts yesterday brought the T20 series level at 1-1 ahead of Wednesday’s final game in Bangalore.
After the national anthems had been perfunctorily performed, as much a part of the pre-match ritual these days as the toss, India scored 144-8 after being sent into bat.
That total looked slightly below-par on a slow, low pitch which, combined with the large boundaries at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium, was not conducive to the orgy of run-scoring on which the format traditionally thrives, but which still produced an excitingly tight game.
Virat Kohli – plumb lbw to Chris Jordan for seven but adjudged not out by umpire Shamshuddin – played one truly amazing stroke when he launched Tymal Mills off the back foot for six over mid-off.
But his departure for 21 in the fifth over, caught at deep mid-on by Liam Dawson off Jordan, set the tone for an innings in which wickets fell a little too often for India’s liking.
For that, England deserved credit, their bowlers continuing the good form they showed in the opening match.
Moeen Ali, who captured 2-21 in the first game, produced another good return of 1-20, while Adil Rashid – who was not required to bowl in Kanpur – chipped in with 1-24.
Jordan had the best figures of 3-22 from four overs, including the wickets of KS Rahul and MS Dhoni to go with the prize scalp of Kohli. Rahul top-scored with 71 from 47 balls with six fours and two sixes, while Dhoni faced only seven deliveries after not arriving at the crease until the 18th over, an inexcusable waste of the former captain’s firepower.
England’s reply began poorly when openers Sam Billings and Jason Roy fell to Ashish Nehra from successive deliveries in the fourth over. Billings charged the bowler and was cramped for room as he pulled a short ball towards fine-leg, while Roy got a leading-edge to mid-on.
Eoin Morgan heaved leg-spinner Amit Mishra to deep mid-wicket, and Mishra should have had a second wicket when he bowled Ben Stokes before he had scored, only for the batsman to be reprieved by a no-ball. That would have left England 66-4 and put India on top; as it was, Stokes got the tourists back into the contest with a typically aggressive display.
Stokes scored 38 from 27 balls before he was finally the fourth man out at 117, lbw to Nehra.
Joe Root also scored 38 before he was wrongly adjudged lbw to Jasprit Bumrah in the final over, umpire Shamshuddin this time failing to detect an inside edge which hardly helped England in a tight situation.
Bumrah followed up by bowling Jos Buttler, killing England’s hopes, with Moeen Ali unable to summon the six needed off the last ball. Having seemed the likeliest winners at one point, England missed a good chance to clinch the series as India fought back in impressive manner.
All of which was music to the animated crowd, who chanted and cheered long into the night.
The series might be something of an irrelevance with the 50-over Champions Trophy about to take centre stage, but try telling that to the Indian supporters.
On Wednesday, the strains of God Save The Queen will ring out again, and Bangalore will be another cauldron of noise.
After a largely wretched winter, England will be anxious to end on a high.