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England displayed a determination to win at The Oval, and, despite things nearly going badly awry for them, they remain a side on the rise
September 10, 2011
England are now not going to lose this home series against India, and with seven wins out of seven in completed fixtures on this tour, they'll consider it quite a failure if they go on to lose at Lord's and Cardiff to allow their opponents a share of the one-day spoils. Nevertheless, the sense that India are already on their way back from rock-bottom is unmistakeable after an enthralling encounter at The Oval.
There is no way on earth that England are going to match their current achievement and win their next seven out of seven against India. That would involve having to complete a 5-0 whitewash on the subcontinent, and judging by the jitters they had to surmount in this match, such a prospect is unlikely to be entertained by even the most optimistic members of a buoyant squad. "We've all toured India before, so we know what to expect," England's captain Alastair Cook said in a show of strength, but even he admitted to shredded nerves after watching the denouement of this latest match.
Cook will travel to India next month knowing that he has not yet lost against a subcontinental team in his three ODI series as captain, with victories in Bangladesh last year and a hard-fought win over Sri Lanka earlier in the summer. And yet, the moments in which India dominated this latest contest - and the methods they used to do so - suggests that this rivalry is about to return to an even keel.
"It's always nervy when you're sitting and watching, and can't do anything about it," Cook said. "We're delighted to be 2-0 up, but we've come here to win the series. We're another step closer to doing that. It's a very quick turnaround to Lord's [on Sunday], but the biggest positive is the way we handled that pressure towards the end - a lot of credit to the way Ravi Bopara played especially, backed up by Tim Bresnan."
Bopara and Bresnan's 60-run stand for the sixth wicket stabilised the contest but neither man was able to close it out. That was left once again to the calm, lofted driving of Graeme Swann, the man who scraped England to their tie in the World Cup contest in Bangalore back in March - the last time an ODI between these two teams went the distance. It was his first international innings since the end of July, but he scarcely missed a beat, even while the hearts of a packed Oval crowd were throbbing with adrenaline.
Right at this moment, England's tail is their most reliable trump card. The likes of Swann, Bresnan and Stuart Broad have previous this summer, after the manner in which they transformed the Trent Bridge Test with powerful initiative-seizing roles in both innings. Their indomitability is becoming a fact of the sport, much as the likes of Warne, Lee and Andy Bichel gave Australia an armour-plated hide in the early 2000s. As part of the quest for a side that can challenge in the 2015 World Cup, it's as good a place as any to start, for it's precisely where many teams fail to finish.
But something is lacking further up the order, and it's something that goes beyond the twin absences of Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan, whose impending shoulder surgery was confirmed midway through the match. Though Morgan's understudy, Bopara, came through a tough challenge well enough in the end, his 40 from 41 balls still epitomised a middle order that doesn't know when to stick or twist - when to dispense with the canny accumulation and turn on the after-burners. Besides, England's understandable penchant for four seamers on a green top left them exposed by India's own expertise in the death overs.
Through the virtuoso performance of Ravindra Jadeja, at first with the bat and then, tellingly, with his left-arm spin on an unexpectedly receptive surface, England's blind spots in this contest almost denied them a clear sight of victory - and given that India had slumped to 25 for 4 and, later, 58 for 5 after being asked to bat first in dank conditions, that would have represented quite some turnaround.
In the end, the magnificence of James Anderson's new-ball spell proved insurmountable, but England won't be able to bank on such turbo-charged starts in Indian conditions. When the shine went out of the new ball, the menace went out of the attack. And when Jade Dernbach's variations were decoded in his penultimate over that went for 19, the absence of a second spinner in Samit Patel was starting to look rather acute. "You always think 'could you have been more attacking to try to get that wicket'," Cook said. "But we didn't create another chance. Even if we'd had slips in there for a little bit longer, nothing went through there."
India, by contrast, never looked more in command than during the fraught six-over period prior to the rain break, when Jadeja and R Ashwin came together to spin through the defences of Craig Kieswetter and Jonathan Trott. Upon the resumption, the rookie Ben Stokes wasn't permitted to settle either - save for one impressive smack for six over long-on - and it was almost certainly to England's advantage that the chase was curtailed by 17 runs and seven overs. With wickets liable to fall, any means to a quicker resolution was welcome.
But ultimately that resolution was reached, and while there's plenty of pause for thought after a contest that nearly went badly awry, England's performance was once again brimful of resolve - from Kieswetter's second commanding innings in consecutive games to Dernbach's comeback in a ballsy final over that yielded six runs and the key wicket of Jadeja. They remain a unit on the rise, and after a summer stuffed full of achievement, the refusal to yield is impressive.
"There's always stuff to learn, always stuff we can improve," Cook said. "In an ideal world we'd have got them out for less, but sometimes the opposition are allowed to play well. They probably did get too many, if we're being really honest with ourselves, because after the Powerplay, they got about 70 or 80 off the last eight overs. It's slightly stressful being there and not able to control when the ball's flying to all corners. But it is enjoyable, and it makes it all the more satisfying when you win."
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Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge