England bowlers set up emphatic series win
England won the deciding match in the NatWest Series at a chilly Lord's by seven wickets with more than 13 overs to spare. After the drama in the sixth ODI at The Oval, the game turned out to be an anticlimax as the weight of expectation once again got to India. Their batting, with the exception of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, was uninspiring and they lacked the firepower to trouble England's strong middle order.
Their total of 187 on a decent pitch was never enough, and it was only thanks to Dhoni's belligerent late onslaught that they mustered an even half-decent score. The ease with which Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen, who added 114 for the fourth wicket, kept the scoreboard rattling along underlined the difference between the sides on the day.
Rahul Dravid's decision to bat raised more than a few eyebrows, especially given the low cloud cover. Historically, decades of domestic September finals at Lord's have favoured the side bowling first, and while in the event the conditions did not play too much of a part, India's batsmen did seem uncertain on what kind of innings to play.
In India's three victories in this series, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly put on three-figure stands for the first wicket, and so the start they got here was always going to be important. But Ganguly failed to adjust to the conditions, and a bizarre innings in which he could have been out half-a-dozen times ended with a tame steer to second slip. The early pressure from the impressive James Anderson, who reeled off eight overs for 19 at the start, was a contributory factor.
The innings really turned on two controversial dismissals, both off Andrew Flintoff, fired up and back in the fold with the aid of a pain-killing injection. His introduction on the hour galvanised a subdued Tendulkar who stepped back and launched two rasping slashes over the cover ring in his first over to the delight of the capacity crowd, some of whom had paid as much as £600 for a ticket.
In his second over, Flintoff underlined how much he had been missed, producing a snorter that cut Dravid in half, umpire Aleem Dar deciding there was an inside edge en route to Matt Prior. Dravid stood long enough to register his disappointment and continued to shake his head most of the way back to the pavilion. Replays were inconclusive.
An over later and there was no doubt that Dar had erred. Tendulkar shaped to drive, missed, but Dar upheld Flintoff's appeal for a catch behind. Tendulkar stood long enough to register his bewilderment and then slowly headed off. He made 30, more than doubling his previous one-day best at Lord's, but his farewell, if this is what it turns out to be, ended in a most unsatisfactory manner.
Yuvraj Singh vented his anger at the injustice by pulling Stuart Broad into the grandstand, and Robin Uthappa took on the bowlers, although only for a brief period. Those attacking forays were the exception in a subdued innings.
Between the 20th and 35th over there was only one boundary and England's change bowlers were able to operate largely unmolested as the innings hit the doldrums. Dimitri Mascarenhas proved almost impossible to get away, taking 3 for 23 in his ten overs from the Pavilion End.
Of India's top eight, only Dravid failed to make a start and yet none of them were able to play the commanding innings that was called for. In the end Dhoni, who showed that he was able to do just that, was left with the tail for company. His exciting strokeplay hinted at what might have been but by then India needed fireworks from both ends.
Defending a low total, India's only chance was to bowl England out, and RP Singh gave them a great start by dismissing both openers in his first over, Luke Wright mistiming a pull and Prior steering a catch to Dhoni. At 11 for 2 England, briefly, were on the back foot.
Another wicket would really have put the cat among the pigeons, and while Singh and Zaheer Khan gave it their all, there were too many loose balls to exercise the pressure that was needed on the two new batsmen. Once they had shot their bolts, the lack of depth in India's attack was exposed.
Pietersen and Ian Bell, who weathered the onslaught with few alarms then began to open up, but the real damage was done by their running between the wickets which was sharp and risk-free, sapping the fielders' resolve.
India's last glimmer of hope came when Pietersen, who had run himself out at The Oval, set off for a single to Tendulkar at midwicket only to check and turn, leaving the committed Bell stranded.
Briefly, the tempo of India's game again picked up, but Pietersen ended a brief lull by launching Piyush Chawla over long-off, rubbing salt into the wounds with a slap past point in the same over.
Collingwood was in no mood to play second fiddle either, twice driving Ramesh Powar through the covers and hoisting Singh into the Mound Stand. He then flicked Chawla dismissively to the midwicket boundary off successive deliveries.
The end came quickly in a flurry of fours, and to the delight of those with more than an eye on England's football and rugby sides, Pietersen hit the winning run almost at the moment their games got underway.
Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo