The hosts’ 198 for nine was their third-highest Twenty20 international total on home soil.
But on an excellent pitch, and small playing area, it proved inadequate as Rohit Sharma’s unbeaten hundred eased India to a 2-1 series success after a third-wicket stand of 89 with his captain Virat Kohli.
Jason Roy (67) and Jos Buttler appeared to have put England on course to easily top 200 – but after their opening partnership of 94 in under eight overs, momentum was lost, and there was no grand finish either.
A manic conclusion to the innings saw five wickets fall in 15 balls, albeit for 21 runs, as Hardik Pandya finished with a career-best four for 38.
Rohit Sharma is first batsman in history to score 3 centuries in each format of international cricket - 3 in Tests, 17 in ODIs, 3 in T20Is. #EngvInd— Mazher Arshad (@MazherArshad) July 8, 2018
Morgan said: “Those 20 or 30 runs we missed out on, in the back-end of our innings, cost us. We did a lot of things right today – particularly that platform set. Jason and Jos were brilliant up front, and almost gave us a licence to allow ourselves to think about 220.
“But the execution of our shots didn’t really match up with getting to that total. On a good wicket, small ground, we should be better than that.”
The tourists were therefore always favourites in the chase, and completed it with eight balls to spare. “India never really got away from us, but we struggled to take wickets,” added Morgan.
“They kept up with the rate, and then it was a position in the 16th or 17th over they could take the game away from us – which is disappointing.”
The Irishman does not believe England have to play perfectly to beat India in white-ball cricket – just very, very well.
“I’d say close to,” he said. “I don’t think we have to play a completely perfect game every time (to beat them) – we proved that at Cardiff. But certainly today they had their day.
“India were probably on top of their game today, and we weren’t – and we were just short.”
Morgan and acting coach Paul Farbrace had a difficult call to make before a ball was bowled, to accommodate the return of fit-again all-rounder Ben Stokes – and in the end it was Test captain Joe Root who was dropped.
Asked if the conversation with Root is among the toughest he has had as captain, Morgan said: “Yes. Dropping Joe is not an easy decision. Trying to win the game on this particular ground, it actually came down to Ben’s bowling option. If we had Joe as a sixth bowler – which we needed today – an extra spinner against India didn’t really match up that well. That was the call we made.”
Alex Hales knows he may be about to go from match-winner to instant fall-guy if England bring Ben Stokes back from injury for their T20 series decider on Sunday.
The hosts have Hales to thank that they still have a shot at victory, rather than trying to avoid a whitewash, against India on Sunday in Bristol after his unbeaten 58 levelled the score at 1-1.
Hales held his nerve, and unleashed the power when 12 runs were still needed from the final over, hitting the first ball for six into Cardiff’s River Taff off Bhuvneshwar Kumar as England got home narrowly.
Yet if Stokes does return – and it is understood it may be as a specialist batsman rather than all-rounder as England exercise caution after his hamstring injury – Hales is one of only two plausible options to make way.
The other is the out-of-sorts Joe Root, who has fallen twice in succession to India’s wrist-spinners for an aggregate nine runs.
England’s Test captain received such a ringing endorsement, however, from acting coach Paul Farbrace after victory over Australia at Edgbaston last month that it seemed then his position was safe.
Hales, meanwhile, admits he has no easy solution – other than keep trying to win matches. “I have no answer,” he said.
“I’m doing all I can to score runs and keep putting pressure on the guys who know they’re playing.
“If it’s me that’s left out, you look at the guys who are playing ahead of me, and what can you do?”
Hales’ half-century at Sophia Gardens was a jarring and most welcome contrast to his struggles in Manchester three days earlier when England faltered so badly to the googlies and variations of Kuldeep Yadav.
There, he made a tortured eight from 18 balls before being bowled round his legs trying to sweep the left-armer.
Asked how satisfying it therefore was to put things right, he said: “Very – it’s right up there.
“The game at Manchester was a very, very bad day at the office personally – and as a team, we didn’t quite get going. But it was brilliant to bounce back in a must-win game … (it) shows a lot of character as a team.”
The hosts were thoroughly outplayed in the first T20 in Manchester with their batting and bowling failing to make much of an impression on Virat Kohli’s team.
However, Eoin Morgan’s team got their act together on a tricky wicket at Sophia Gardens to keep India’s batsmen and bowlers in check. A total of 148-5 would have been even lower but for a final over from Jake Ball that leaked 22 runs.
The first area England bowlers improved and possibly set the tone for the remainder of the series is the length.
England quicks tested the middle of the pitch a lot more than their Indian counterparts, with nearly half the deliveries bowled to both left and right handed batsmen half-way down the track or even shorter.
According to CricViz, England bowlers shortened their length by nearly 15 per cent on Friday, which resulted in the Indian batsmen struggling to control the strokes on a pitch that had indifferent bounce.
That’s a strategy England can sustain as they have quicks like Liam Plunkett and Chris Jordan in limited-overs cricket and Stuart Broad, and hopefully Ben Stokes, in Tests who can pepper the opposition with the short stuff.
Indian batsmen have definitely improved their game against the short ball but there is not a lot you can do against well-directed short bowling.
Also, England backed themselves and went after Kuldeep Yadav, not allowing him to settle at all and more importantly, not giving him a single wicket.
The demons from the first T20 where Kuldeep took five wickets vanished and the England camp got belief in their batting back, especially against quality wrist spin. The job is not done but England made giant strides on Friday ahead of Sunday’s decider in Bristol.