ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
India v England, World Cup 2011, Group B, Bangalore
England show they belong at the top
Few gave Andrew Strauss's team a chance of getting close to India's 338, but the captain led the way and after nearly giving the game away they showed their spirit at the death
February 27, 2011
Played 17, won 5. It's the sort of record you'd associate with a minnow, not with a team that was the only one to reach the semifinal or better in each of the first five World Cups. Since the run to the final in 1992 though, England have been abysmal, registering just five victories against Test-playing opposition in four competitions. Even those wins came against teams that were in disarray and had little chance of going all the way - like Sri Lanka in 1999 and Pakistan in 2003.
Against the better sides, England made up the numbers, much like a Canada or Kenya. An entire generation of fans has grown up thinking of English one-day cricket as a joke, unaware of Ian Botham's allround heroics in Australia in '92 or of Graham Gooch's 115-run masterclass that plunged India into depression in '87.
Journalists, like most who tell a story, love to embellish, to imbue events and situations with an importance they don't always deserve. In Bangalore on Sunday night, there was no need for exaggeration. What they saw was a colossal innings, one that will almost certainly result in England being taken seriously as a one-day side again.
Not many teams hunt down 339, but the way England started it quickly became apparent that they were going to have a good old joust. India were fortunate that Kevin Pietersen's superb cameo didn't last longer, and the video analyst will have a field day tomorrow pointing out the number of deliveries angled in at Andrew Strauss's pads.
This was only Strauss's sixth one-day century, and he has nothing like the repertoire of a Tendulkar or Pietersen. What he does possess is a quality Test opener's biggest asset - the ability to put away the bad ball. The more India bowled, the more fluently he and Ian Bell put them away.
Had they been more used to winning, the result would have been different. Under MS Dhoni, India have a resilience about them no matter how badly they play, and once Zaheer exhibited that with a wonderful final spell, the doubts in English minds came to the fore.
"It was always going to be tough to chase that sort of total," said Strauss afterwards, his expression similar to that a man would have if he'd arranged a limo to pick up his date and seen her leave in a pick-up with the mechanic. "We just needed to have a good Powerplay and we were there."
They lost four wickets for 25 in those five overs, and a walk in the park became a Zimmer-frame lurch for the line. But with the middle order having imploded, they found unlikely heroes at the death. Graeme Swann and Tim Bresnan smeared Piyush Chawla for sixes, and Ajmal Shahzad produced the shot of the day when Munaf Patel pitched one too full in the final over.
Shahzad had shown strength of character earlier in the day, conceding just 27 in his first six overs even as India threatened to run away with the game. His next two went for 26, and spoke of over-exuberance and desperation to impose his will on the game. "We're very excited about him as a cricketer," said Strauss. "He runs in, is enthusiastic and has a great attitude. He got his chance because Broad was unwell, and he didn't let anyone down."
The 28 that England scored in the last two overs went hand-in-hand with the collapse that Bresnan inspired with a brilliant late spell where he both hit the deck and found the blockhole. India lost their last seven wickets for 34, and a possible 370 became 338.
Instead of heading back to the dressing room beaten and deflated, Bresnan's last burst allowed England to hope. Having managed to stem one Indian tide, they could conceive of taking toll of a bowling attack that had struggled to rein in Bangladesh. "Our bowling can be better than it was today, but I thought we finished the 50 overs very well," said Strauss, harking back to the moment when victory became a remote option.
He reckoned that most teams would have struggled to contain runs on "an incredibly flat wicket", but the fact remains that both teams lacked the bowling depth of a South Africa or Australia. James Anderson could have had Sehwag thrice in his first over, but bowled like a drain thereafter, while each of India's bowlers had at least one spell where they took a pounding.
"Both teams will take stock and we'll both say that we can go on and play better," said Strauss. "For now, I think we should celebrate that it was an unbelievable game of cricket, a great advert for the 50-over game."
We should also recognise the fact that England, after more than decade, are back at the top table. They may not be the most likely ones, but they're contenders again, thanks to a captain who keeps talking up his opening partner while doing the star turns himself.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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