Red hot cricket
This was the sort of feisty evening the series had been building up to. Since the first Test at Lord's both sides had been itching to land a few body-blows on each other and here in Manchester they almost got there. A packed house of 19,884 spectators was witness to a royal street fight, one that produced a gripping atmosphere and a grandstand finish.
The low-lying floodlights at the ground might not have provided the desired intensity but there was no shortage of electricity at the start of the second half. India's bowlers and fielders, acting like Italian football defenders, set up a cracking contest before two young Englishmen doused the fire with the partnership of the series.
England were stumbling in the face of an innocuous target when the two babies of the side came together, held their nerve and guided the team home. Drip by drip, ball by ball, they eked out a match-winning partnership. The last quarter was like watching the climax of a Test. Overs were never a concern, the run-rate was always within control but Ravi Bopara and Stuart Broad overcame some furious gamesmanship to cross the finish line.
In hindsight one can look back at the 40th over of the chase, when the game hinged on umpire Ian Gould's finger, but Broad survived a perilously close lbw appeal against Piyush Chawla. And he made the most of his life, batting like his father Chris, who was nervously watching from the pavilion, crunching back-foot cover-drives as if it was second nature. He had delivered a career-best performance with the ball earlier in the day but it was with the bat, in his 13th game, where his temperament shone through.
Broad Sr had his moments of mouthing off at umpires and kicking down stumps but his son doesn't seem to have inherited those genes. He joined Bopara when the latter had run out the captain, Paul Collingwood, but both batted according to a plan of eating away at the target. "Ravi kept talking to me and we kept egging each other on," Broad said, matter of fact, at the end of the day. "We had plenty of time to bat, there wasn't any scoreboard pressure. We just kept it simple, went down in tens. We got 30-35 and said, 'This is not many runs, keep playing. We don't need to chase the game. The boundaries will come.'"
|India, seemingly inspired by Shah Rukh Khan's heroics in his latest film, Chak De India, seemed to have had their dinner spiked|
It was not easy, especially with India throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the English to defend the target. Seemingly inspired by Shah Rukh Khan's heroics in his latest film, Chak De India, the Indians seemed to have had their dinner spiked. Their bowlers were full of bombast, their fielders erupted liberally, and the high-voltage intensity rarely wavered.
Ian Bell, one of the most soft-spoken men in cricket, walked out to an unbelievably hostile reception. Here was the highest scorer of the series walking in to knock off an easy target only to be faced with Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Karthik unleashing their wide-ranging vocabulary, getting at him with some fire.
For Kevin Pietersen, the chatting began before he'd faced a ball. The umpires tried to intervene and Rahul Dravid tried to cool it off but a section of the Indian team refused to relent. Karthik began pounding his chest, as if to indicate the passion within, and Sourav Ganguly, never one to keep quiet, chipped in frequently. Ajit Agarkar, returning with renewed vigour, was cranking it up in the late 80s, and India, as Dravid admitted later, "gave it everything". They continued to stutter in the field, though they held on to their catches, but began with an intensity not seen in recent times. It may well be the case that their initial fury left them drained of energy at the end.
Sachin Tendulkar, Andrew Flintoff, Collingwood, Yuvraj and Agarkar sparkled at various stages but it ultimately came down to the scrap under lights. Zaheer, often at the centre of the tension, twisted his ankle in his second spell, Yuvraj appeared to be struggling towards the end and India couldn't summon the magic moment where the game could have turned.
Ultimately, though, they played their part in a cracking contest. The series might have slipped away but the fictitious Jelly Bean Trophy, for the most pumped-up acts on a cricket field, is still very much up for grabs.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo