Strauss stars in consolation win
It took a testing spell from a trio of medium-pacers and a nuggety half-century from a stand-in stand-in captain to guide England to their first victory of the series in the sixth match at Jamshedpur. It would have taken a turnaround of sorts for India to win from the depths of 79 for 5 - they threatened to when Mahendra Singh Dhoni's bat resembled a giant sickle - but a controlled run-chase, led by the assured Andrew Strauss, clinched the consolation win.
With the series already settled, India decided to tweak their line-up but England's seam attack thrived in congenial surroundings, moving the ball around disconcertingly and, for the third time in the series, watched the Indian top order wilt. Rahul Dravid's absence left a gaping void and the unheralded trio of James Anderson, Liam Plunkett and Sajid Mahmood reined in the scoring-rate. Dhoni's outlandish methods, allied with Ramesh Powar's pluck, injected the much-needed oxygen but 223 was still too few to play with.
Strauss, leading for the first time, and Ian Bell, playing his first match of the series, set a rollicking tempo during the chase. India's inexperienced medium-pace troika - with just 13 ODIs between them - were made to pay for their errant length with drives being crunched to the off-side fence. Munaf Patel and VRV Singh cracked it up to above 85 mph - if not for a no-ball, VRV could have had a wicket in his first over in ODIs - but neither them, nor the erratic RP Singh, managed the breakthrough.
Bell's dismissal, four short of what would have been a well-deserved half-century, allowed Strauss to shift to consolidation mode - angling the ball in the gaps and thwarting the spin threat in the middle overs. The sapping heat gradually took its toll on Strauss and he cramped up on 76, retiring hurt, but England were just 65 adrift then. Pietersen blasted 33 in quick time before falling to Harbhajan Singh, who had earlier turned out to be his first international wicket.
The killer blows, though, had been delivered much earlier. Two Indian batsmen for whom the game mattered most failed yet again - Virender Sehwag, captaining today, and Mohammad Kaif, promoted to No. 3 - but Dhoni's fireworks at the top of the order took them to 34 at the end of the fifth over. But Mahmood and Plunkett, whose skiddy spell had batsmen caught between attack and defence, pulled things back in no time. Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina were induced into errors - one bottom-edging onto the stumps, the other gliding a catch down leg side. Venugopal Rao, playing his first one-dayer for more than five months, left soon and India, for all their success, failed to redress their top-order worries.
India would have been in deeper strife if not for Dhoni the woodcutter. His first game on his home ground, around this time last year, had been an anti-climax - he fell cheaply in front of an expectant crowd - but he delivered today, with a dash of the bizarre. With a bat occasionally resembling an axe, lashing through the covers, and occasionally resembling a tennis racquet, whipping full balls back past the bowler, he breezed along unhindered. It's not only Dhoni's strokes that demand attention but also an exaggerated recoil that follows it. Picking up deliveries from outside off, planting his bat below the ball like a crowbar, choosing the moment to maximise the leverage and turning the wrists at a quite astonishing speed, Dhoni put the bowlers completely off their rhythm.
Powar's value shouldn't be under-estimated - he rotated the strike and even ventured outside the crease to unleash a few outrageous shots himself. An inside-out six against Ian Blackwell showed what he was capable of and he carried on building on Dhoni's gains. He deservedly brought up his first half-century in one-dayers with a flurry of glides and nudges that showed skill as a finisher, before holing out at the death. His deliciously loopy offbreaks resulted in two wickets later in the day but it couldn't prevent England capitalising on home disadvantage with India going down to their seventh defeat in nine games at the Keenan Stadium.
Virender Sehwag c Solanki b Anderson 4 (4 for 1)
Played away from his body and edges to slip
Mohammad Kaif lbw b Mahmood 15 (46 for 2)
Played across to a full straight one
Yuvraj Singh b Plunkett 4 (58 for 3)
Bottom edged a pull onto his stumps
Suresh Raina c Prior b Plunkett 2 (63 for 4)
Tickled one down leg side; sharp catch behind the stumps
Venugopal Rao c Pryor b Anderson 10 (79 for 5)
Tried to drive an away-going delivery
Mahendra Singh Dhoni c Solanki b Mahmood 96 (186 for 6)
Scooped it straight to short midwicket
Harbhajan Singh b Pietersen 4 (196 for 7)
Undone by on that held its line
Ramesh Powar c Hoggard b Collingwood 54 (209 for 8)
Lofted a slower ball straight to midwicket
RP Singh c Blackwell b Mahmood 8 (216 for 9)
Holed out to the extra-cover region
VRV Singh c Blackwell b Anderson 8 (223 all out)
Chipped to wide long-on
Ian Bell c Dhoni b Harbhajan 46 (107 for 1)
Tried to cut when width was offered
Vikram Solanki b Powar 7 (120 for 2)
Beaten by the flight and turn as he danced down the track
Kevin Pietersen c and b Harbhajan 33 (198 for 3) Leading edge off doosra popped back
Matt Prior c VRV Singh b Harbhajan 3 (207 for 4)
Skied one trying to clear mid-off
Liam Plunkett c Sehwag b Powar 0 (209 for 5)
Edged a sweep to first slip
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo