England on full beam while India fade
A day that contained some of the most dank and miserable weather of the summer gave way to a glorious sunset that dipped over the Rose Bowl pavilion just as an improbable 23-over-a-side contest got underway out in the middle. By the time the floodlights had kicked into full life, England were also on full beam, and kicking on to another remarkable victory - their sixth out of six in completed fixtures against an Indian team that is somehow locating a new nadir with each new dawn.
England's latest victory was remarkable in the sense that it ought to have been unexpected - given the size of India's total and the cobbled-together nature of England's batting line-up - but it ended up feeling entirely routine. Alastair Cook's adaptation to one-day cricket has, in its own way, seemed more improbable than his feats of endurance in the Test format, and as he glided to a 63-ball 80 not out (to take his summer's ODI tally to 382 runs at 76.40 from 381 balls) India's resolve broke as dramatically as the clouds that had delayed the day's start until 7pm.
Cook, by his own admission, came close to standing down for this contest. Instead it was the insular Jonathan Trott who stepped out of the starting XI to make way for the pugnacious Samit Patel - a recognition of the fact that, in a 23-over sprint, there was no place for a pacemaker. With Kevin Pietersen taking a break and Eoin Morgan laid low with a shoulder problem, England's batting line-up seemed to have a worrying lack of oomph, and yet you would not believe it from the speed with which they hurtled after India's testing total of 187 for 8.
India seemed to have done everything right with the bat. Parthiv Patel was brisk and abrupt in a 16-ball 28, Ajinkya Rahane unfurled a crisp technique for the third match in a row to anchor their performance with 54 from 47 balls, while Suresh Raina's transmogrification from the Test series continued with another howitzer of an innings - 40 from 19 balls, including three fours and three sixes. At the precise moment he flogged his third maximum over point off Tim Bresnan, he took his ODI runs tally to 74 from 43 balls. In the Oval Test last month, he floundered to a 42-ball pair.
None of that was enough to halt England, however. In part, they owed their momentum to a superb retort from Craig Kieswetter, a batsman whose ability to clear the ropes in the Powerplay overs propelled him straight into the World Twenty20 line-up in the Caribbean last May, but whose stiff-armed response to tidy swing bowling has tended to lay him low in English conditions. Here he produced a throwback performance, not least when he opened his shoulders in Vinay Kumar's opening over, to batter a length ball over midwicket for six.
However, that India failed to trouble Kieswetter, or Cook for that matter, was an indictment of their inadequacies as a bowling unit. England's attack also struggled on a pitch that Cook later admitted was much better for batting than eight hours of sweating under the covers would have suggested. However they did at least have James Anderson's waspishness with the new ball to fall back on, as well as Graeme Swann's purchase in the middle overs, as he applied a handbrake to the run-rate with three wickets for 33 in five excellent overs.
India had no-one who could match such diligence. Praveen Kumar had an off-day, as his first two overs were filleted for 23, but the lack of back-up went way beyond the absence of an outright fifth bowler that MS Dhoni bemoaned at the close. R Ashwin's opening over was defensive leg-side dross that demanded - and received - an attacking response from Kieswetter, and it wasn't until Bell drove loosely to short cover in the 11th over that England's run-rate dipped below ten an over.
England had their alarms with the bat - mostly when an anxious Ravi Bopara came to the crease, desperate to prove himself but merely muddying his own case with each new muffed decision. He twice came close to running himself out early in his stay, and while a 20-ball 24 served his team's purpose in the end, he exuded a lack of confidence reminiscent of Owais Shah in the dying days of his own ODI career.
There's still time for Bopara to get it right, and there's no better place to learn than in a winning outfit, but his stuttering performance was proof that India could have turned the screw, if they'd had anything resembling an attack with which to do so. Their glut of injuries is an excuse that washes only so far, given that England are also feeling the wear and tear of a long season. But as Bell demonstrated in a superlative evening's work on the long boundary, where he pocketed three catches - one of them outstanding - and saved a certain four with a full-length dive on the edge of the rope, there's one team that's willing to push itself to the limit.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo