Stand-in captain Eoin Morgan saved his best for last as England completed the summer with a thrilling three-run win over India in the one-off NatWest Twenty20 international against India at Edgbaston.
Morgan led from the front with a blazing 71 from 31 balls before England’s death bowlers denied Mahendra Singh Dhoni from yet another of his famed finishing acts.
It was a success to offer relief to Morgan after he admitted his own poor form had let his side down during the recently-concluded 3-1 Royal London one-day international series.
After being handed the captaincy in Birmingham – in the absence of Stuart Broad following his knee surgery last week – Morgan proved an assurance with bat, and then in leading his men in the field, to offer ammunition to those who believe he is England’s best limited-overs skipper.
Morgan was, however, content just to reflect on a victory that offers some comfort to England’s limited overs plans as they head into an important winter.
“There’s smiles in the changing-room after a very tough summer,” he said.
“We’ve worked really hard and to finish it on such a high against such a very strong T20 team – is a great achievement.
“It is hugely important. In the one-day series our senior players including myself didn’t stand up and didn’t lead the way which made things really difficult.
“To lead from the front myself was the way it should be done.”
England had to rely on Morgan’s fireworks after the India spinners curdled the rate as they reeled off 11 consecutive overs after the powerplay. England were restricted to 99-4 with five overs left, which was the cue for Morgan to explode.
He clubbed six of his record-equalling seven maximums as England took 81 from the final 30 balls to expose India’s suspect death bowling.
Ravi Bopara’s unbeaten 21 from nine deliveries proved valuable too – after he was overlooked for the 50-over format – as England reached 180-7.
On a good wicket, India set off confidently in pursuit on the back of Virat Kohli’s first half-century of his otherwise barren summer.
When he was unable to control a Steven Finn bouncer on 66, clinking a catch to Hales in the deep, India needed 46 from 30 balls and, with Dhoni at the crease, seemingly still in command.
But England surged at the end of the innings again as their death bowlers took over with James Tredwell delivering an over of singles before Harry Gurney slipped a yorker through Suresh Raina to suddenly ramp up the pressure.
Dhoni was left needing 17 from the final over and while he lifted Chris Woakes’s first ball over the square-leg rope, the Warwickshire right-armer kept his cool to close out victory in front of a vocal Edgbaston crowd that mostly cheered on the tourists.
“For young guys coming through to experience this at this level is brilliant,” said Morgan.
“The guys at the end; Woakesy and Harry Gurney and Steven Finn were outstanding.
“To hold their nerve – it was amazing to see how calm Woakesy was at the end of his mark.
“He talked a lot of sense and kept things pretty careful,” he added.
Morgan believes Woakes is starting to prove he can be the man England turn to at the death, after he also impressed in closing out victory for Birmingham Bears on Finals Day on this same ground last month.
“The best things about it was on Twenty20 Finals Day he bowled yorkers and a couple of slower balls but today he had to do something different,” he said. “That was a little bit out of his comfort zone and he executed extremely well against one of the best batsmen in the world.”
Morgan was not surprised that Indian Dhoni turned down singles three times in the closing overs, despite having a recognised batsman in Ambati Rayudu at the other end.
“(I’m) probably not greatly surprised,” he said.
“He’s a guy capable of anything. That first ball Woakesy bowled, he probably missed his length but not by much at all – he inside edged it for six.
“If Woakesy half executes the rest of the deliveries he faces in that over they could have gone for six as well.”
Dhoni revealed that he had decided before the final over that he wanted to finish the game himself, adding: “It’s important to back yourself – my strength.
“He (Rayudu) could have done it but I took responsibility.
“Seventeen off six balls is always difficult – it’s a bit of an issue.
“I got six off the first ball and there was even two more balls I could have hit over the rope,” he said.
“It was one of those days I couldn’t middle it.”