England take unassailable lead
India flirted with the idea of a first international win on the tour through three comebacks at The Oval, but England once again proved a touch too strong. James Anderson wreaked havoc at the top, Craig Kieswetter gave England a head start in the chase, and when the India spinners threatened to choke the life out of England's chase, Tim Bresnan and Ravi Bopara calmly administered the first successful ODI chase under The Oval floodlights.
Put in on a green track, India were 25 for 4 and 58 for 5 before Ravindra Jadeja, who arrived in England yesterday, and MS Dhoni put together India's third-highest partnership of the tour to lend some respectability to the total. Kieswetter charged at India with a blinding half-century, but the slower bowlers pegged England back with three quick wickets. A rain break followed, which took seven overs off the game. England came back confident from that break, but some inspiration in the field got India another look-in. With a measured 60-run sixth-wicket partnership, Bopara and Bresnan made sure India won't have any trophies to declare at customs when they go back home.
The way it all started, though, England would not have imagined such hard work would be needed. A green track was prepared, the toss was won, and Anderson and Bresnan began menacingly. They both bowled just short of a length with movement each way. It was Anderson who produced the wicket-taking deliveries, and the wicket-taking throw.
Ajinkya Rahane fatally chased an outswinger in the first over, Parthiv Patel played all over a rare full ball in the seventh, and Virat Kohli edged one outside off in the 11th. Anderson wasn't content with just swinging the ball around and nicking batsmen out. In between he vindicated Rahul Dravid's decision to retire from ODIs by catching the latter looking over his shoulder while trying to steal a single to mid-off. Anderson flicked the throw, missed Dravid, who did try to cover the line of the throw, and hit the stumps.
Suresh Raina had a horror stay at the wicket, and looked to slog his way out of trouble. One heave failed to connect, another went out of the ground, and the final one - off Stuart Broad - took the toe edge of his bat through to the keeper. India still had 31 overs to bat.
By then, though, the ball was moving less, England's second-string bowlers didn't provide that much threat, and Dhoni and Jadeja put their legs to a solid test. They didn't risk losing wickets by trying to hit the bowlers off their rhythm, but they tested every single fielder with every single hit. They took 23 overs to reach the first 101 runs of their stand. England didn't completely back off during that spell, but there still remained a distinct middle-overs feel to the ease with which the two could find gaps.
In the 44th over, with both their fifties reached, they asked for the Powerplay. Even though Bresnan removed Dhoni soon, England wilted a bit in the last five overs, conceding 60 runs. Jade Dernbach's slower balls became predictable, R Ashwin upper-cut Bresnan, Anderson bowled length, and Alastair Cook didn't know what to do with the fields. The bowlers didn't help by not bowling to their field. Ashwin scored 36 off 19.
If India had any hopes of carrying some momentum from that big finish into the defence, Kieswetter soon quelled them. He toyed around with Praveen Kumar and RP Singh, charging at them, making room, hitting them over both midwicket and extra cover, scoring 51 off 46. Two of his sixes - over midwicket and extra cover, neither of them a slog - made batting look easy in a low-scoring match. India forced their way back again. Munaf Patel's accuracy got Cook, Jadeja's arm ball accounted for Kieswetter, and Ashwin's carrom ball got rid of Jonathan Trott to convert 63 for 0 to 89 for 3 minutes before rain interrupted play.
The rain break took 17 runs off the target while chopping seven overs off and left England just two overs of Batting Powerplay. In theory that should have worked in India's favour, but Ian Bell and Ben Stokes, who both looked nervous before the break, now came out positive. The damp outfield didn't help the spinners either. Thirty-six came off the next six overs. India, infamous for slow fielders, wasn't giving up just yet. Dhoni's sharp work ran Bell out after the latter had instinctively taken a few steps down the pitch after defending the ball to the on side. Stokes might have hit a huge six over long-on, but his dismissal by Ashwin had a sense of inevitability about it.
England needed 85 off 15.2 overs, and India would have fancied their chances when bowling to Bopara, who seems to forever be fighting for his place in the side, and the lower order. Bopara and Bresnan didn't try anything fancy against the spinners and instead waited for them to run out of overs. They then attacked the quick bowlers. Munaf's first over back went for 10, and the asking-rate was back under control. Jadeja came back to dismiss Bresnan, but Bopara remained solid for his 40. When he fell in Ashwin's last over, he had left England just 10 to get off 13.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo