Uthappa seals thriller for India
The best one-day matches are decided in tight finishes and, when the life of a series hangs in that balance, it makes the tension that much more real. Led by a magnificent 94 from Sachin Tendulkar and an icy-cool unbeaten 47 from Robin Uthappa, India hunted down the target of 317 with two balls to spare. England fought hard and never let go but the price India paid for playing only four bowlers was compensated - if only just - by the decision to play seven batsmen.
The last few overs were dramatic, and none more than the final one. Uthappa, playing in his first match of the series and batting in the unfamiliar role of the finisher, found himself facing Stuart Broad, England's best bowler of the day, with 10 runs needed to keep his team in the series. The first ball yielded a hard-run two but Broad fired the next in the blockhole; Uthappa could only dig it out straight to the bowler who comfortably ran out Zaheer Khan, backed up too far.
The next ball was another full ball, aimed at the middle stump. Uthappa, though, was outside the off stump by the time the ball got to him and deftly helped it over the short fine leg. The fielder was pushed back and in came long-off. This time Uthappa was down the wicket and the ball went screaming past mid-off. Through these two high-quality and calculated strokes, one young man had out-thought the other. It was a nerveless innings when the run-chase had threatened to go horribly wrong.
India began their pursuit with their heaviest artillery, Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, firing in unison. Ganguly set the tone, putting James Anderson away through his favourite point region. Tendulkar then responded with a flick off Broad that flew off the bat and it was game on. There was decisiveness to the calling as the pair pinched quick singles. While they still traded largely in boundaries, there was no hesitancy in the running between wickets, a refreshing trend after the last few games.
Tendulkar picked off Anderson for three consecutive boundaries - an off drive, a flick through square leg and a repeat of the earlier stroke - in the eighth over, and Ganguly was keen not to be left out. Off the next over he came breezily down the pitch to Broad and carved him over cover. There was an exchange of words as Broad clearly wasn't enjoying bowling to two highly skilled one-day batsmen on an unhelpful pitch. All this did was spur Ganguly on further, and another trip down the pitch sent the ball several rows back in the stands behind long-on.
The fifty for India - hardly maniacal - came off 49 balls, and soon enough Tendulkar brought up his 83rd half-century. The next Indian fifty came even sooner, off 37 balls, and suddenly the target of 316 appeared manageable.
With Tendulkar sweeping past short fine leg when the man was in the circle, and hitting inside-out through cover when the field changed, there was little the bowlers could do. Needing to score at more than six an over for the 50-over span, it needed runs from both ends, and Ganguly matched Tendulkar in volume and entertainment. He even unfurled the pull, timing and placing the ball perfectly, one bounce and over the ropes.
What made India's progress particularly pleasing was the fact that barely a serious appeal had passed in the course of the partnership. Then, against the run of play Ganguly fell, on 53, when he made room and tried to hit over the off side. He just failed to clear Kevin Pietersen at cover and India lost their first wicket for 150. Broad, who had bowled with purpose amid the run-glut, finally had reward for his toil.
Then came a passage of play that Indian fans are familiar with. One wicket was followed by another as Tendulkar, cramping and struggling on, hit Monty Panesar inside-out, much like Ganguly, and was caught by Paul Collingwood. Tendulkar had fallen in the nineties for the fifth time on this tour, and soon after the complexion of the game changed.
Dravid fell to a soft dismissal; Yuvraj Singh hit a couple of pleasing shots but checked a drive and popped a catch back to Dimitri Mascarenhas; Gautam Gambhir threatened to consolidate but threw his wicket away at 47. When he fell, India had 234 on the board and still needed 83 from 58 balls. Then Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Uthappa shepherded India through a passage where the required rate rocketed over 10.
The two kept their cool, and despite some intelligent bowling from Broad, the runs came. Uthappa scooped one over short fine leg, pulled off the front foot, and a couple of edges either side of the wicketkeeper put India within touching distance of the target. Still, with 23 needed from the last two overs, and the bowlers sacrificing their wickets, it came right down to the wire with 10 needed from the last over. Then Uthappa, with 47 from only 33 balls, went from being a passenger to a hero.
From very early on, this game had the makings of a cracker, with the balance of power shifting one way and then the other, never quite settling decisively in either team's favour. Zaheer continued his torment of Alastair Cook, removing him with the second ball of the day when Cook played slightly inside the line and nicked to the keeper. A straight delivery from Ajit Agarkar had Matt Prior trapped leg before as he moved a long way across his stumps and England were 20 for 2.
Ian Bell, who has been in rollicking form all series, continued to pile on the runs, hitting crisply through the off side and working the ball away through leg with clever deflections. He went quite effortlessly to 49, and took his overall tally to 386 from six matches, before playing a loose across-the-line heave to a loopy delivery from Piyush Chawla, only to have his stumps disturbed.
England's other in-form batsman, Collingwood, was dismissed soon after, in slightly dramatic circumstances. Kevin Pietersen played one to cover and set off for the single. Dinesh Karthik provided a strong return and as Dhoni whipped the bails off, Collingwood was stretching to make his ground. Peter Hartley, standing in his first ODI, did not call for the third umpire, but swiftly changed his mind once the big screen at the ground replayed the action. Ian Gould, correctly, gave Collingwood out, and England's captain trudged off, muttering angrily to himself. At 83 for 4, having chosen to bat on a good surface, England appeared to be squandering a golden chance to seal the series.
But Pietersen, who has little to show in terms of runs in this series, and Owais Shah, who still didn't seem to be picking either of India's spinners, put together a gritty and determined 54 for the fifth wicket. Neither batsman was completely comfortable, especially early on, but they both placed a high price on their wickets.
It took the second run out of the innings to separate Pietersen and Shah, and when the two ended up at the same end, and the bails were taken off at the other, it was Pietersen who had to go with Shah standing his ground. Pietersen made 53, but it had come off as many as 82 balls, and that was a measure of how tight Ganguly, Chawla and Ramesh Powar kept things.
If Shah felt a burden for his part in the run-out of Pietersen, he carried it lightly, playing the innings of his 24-ODI career. He began with a thumping drive through off, and despite going momentarily off the boil, found his groove as the overs wound down. His strong bottom-handed grip proved ideal to tackle the low full tosses that were sent down as the bowlers strived for yorkers. The fours piled on, occasionally were converted to sixes, and in the penultimate over of the innings a clip to long-on off Tendulkar brought Shah his maiden ODI hundred.
But while Shah scored the most runs, it was Luke Wright, making his ODI debut, who brought a smile to the face. He batted in the manner that has propelled him to this level - strong, forthright, ambitious and powerful - hitting cleanly especially down the ground. He wrested the initiative away from India, scoring quickly and running hard to make 50 off 39 before a strong throw from Uthappa nailed him short of his crease.
Shah's unbeaten 107 took England to a good score. Mascarenhas' going berserk took them to a truly imposing one. With Zaheer having bowled out, Dravid went to Yuvraj to bowl the final over. Mascarenhas missed out with the first ball, but deposited the next five into the stands in the arc from square leg to long-on. England finished on a high, with the last pair adding 73 from 34 balls, with 316 on the board. That was a lot, but not quite enough to seal the series.
Anand Vasu is associate editor of Cricinfo