India clinch a low-scoring affair
India hiccupped their way to a nervy four-wicket win over England in their opening Champions Trophy encounter at Jaipur. Sixteen wickets fell for 251 runs on a day when neither team's batsmen covered themselves with glory, but India just about managed to hold it together under lights after they had done superbly in the field, bundling England out for a paltry 125 in 37 overs.
Though India struggled in their run-chase, England had little chance once their batsmen had folded up so meekly. For the second time in two days, the team batting first came unstuck on a pitch which, while by no means a shirtfront, certainly wasn't a minefield. In the early overs there was a fair amount of pace and bounce on offer for the fast bowlers, but soon there was also more than a hint of uneven bounce as a few deliveries shot through to the wicketkeeper, while some reared up from a length. The need of the hour was for the batsmen to knuckle down, graft their runs, and put away the premeditated strokes, but apart from Paul Collingwood and Jamie Dalrymple, none of the England batsmen were prepared to adopt that route.
The Indians, for their part, hardly got anything wrong in the field. Dravid's decision at the toss turned out to be a masterstroke, while the biggest gain for them from this game was undoubtedly Irfan Pathan's return to bowling form. In his last 38 overs - starting with the tour to the West Indies - Pathan has leaked 233 runs but here he rediscovered all the virtues which had made him such a matchwinner in his first 18 months in international cricket: he swung it appreciably, got plenty of bounce early on, and found more than an extra yard of pace, consistently touching 130 kmph. Munaf Patel bowled with the control which has now become a norm, the spinners backed the fast bowlers superbly, while the fielding was refreshingly energetic, with direct hits finding their target more than once.
England's procession to the pavilion started in the fourth over, after Pathan had sent out a message with a maiden first up. Ian Bell was beaten by an indipper from Munaf Patel, and though replays clearly the ball to be going over the top of the stumps, umpire Darryl Harper decided otherwise. Andrew Flintoff's decision to promote himself to No.3 backfired as Pathan got one to jag back and trap him plumb in front. England then tried another gamble, pushing Michael Yardy up to No.4, but he fell to the lbw route as well, leaving them tottering at 17 for 3, and bringing Kevin Pietersen to the middle. Surely, if anyone could counterattack England out of this mess, he could.
Briefly, at least, it seemed Pietersen would stamp his authority on the game as he used his feet with audacity against the fast bowlers, twice converting perfectly good deliveries from Ajit Agarkar into run-scoring opportunities by going across his stumps and clipping to leg. However, it was too good to last as Munaf, returning for a second spell, forced him to steer to slip. England had lost half the side for 55, and from there it was only a question of limiting the damage.
Collingwood did that to the best of his abilities, batting with a common sense that has become his second nature. With Dalrymple he added 49 for the sixth wicket, as both batsmen knocked the ball around, looked for singles and twos, and used his feet to good effect too. A total of around 180 seemed a distinct possibility, before the spinners struck. Collingwood was beaten by the turn and edged a bat-pad chance to the keeper off Powar, who flighted the ball deliciously and invited the lower order to self-destruct. Chris Read showed he had no idea of the needs of the team, tonking one to long-on after having been given a second-ball reprieve by Simon Taufel, while Dalrymple's patience finally ran out after a 45-ball vigil.
If their batting was listless, England's bowling was equally insipid at the start. Steve Harmison started proceedings with a wide that was beyond the wicketkeeper, and went for 20 in his first over. Virender Sehwag creamed two fours before his greed got the better of him, but Sachin Tendulkar - looking in excellent nick - and Pathan hammered 50 in quick time to give the full house at Jaipur plenty to cheer about as India went into the break on 55 for 1 in eight overs.
After the break, though, the England bowlers fought back tremendously, as India made a hash of what should have been a walk in the park. James Anderson nabbed two wickets in an over - amid a spectacular display of fireworks as someone decided to celebrate Diwali early - while Tendulkar fell for a well-made 35. Dalrymple then added to his good work with the bat, nailing Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Suresh Raina in the same over. That might have caused some panic in the dressing-room, but Yuvraj Singh was around to guide the team home, ensuring that India finished with two points for their day's efforts.
Ian Bell lbw b Munaf 4 (10 for 1)
Hit above the knee roll by an indipper and clearly going over the stumps
Andrew Flintoff lbw b Pathan 0 (11 for 2)
Played across the line and trapped plumb in front by one that nipped back
Michael Yardy lbw b Munaf 4 (17 for 3)
Pitched on middle and held its line
Andrew Strauss c Dravid b Pathan 10 (27 for 4)
Charged down to drive a short one, and edged to second slip
Kevin Pietersen c Tendulkar b Munaf 27 (55 for 5)
Steered to first slip
Paul Collingwood c Dhoni b Powar 38 (104 for 6)
Tried to flick to leg, but the ball clipped the inside edge and then the pad
Chris Read c Pathan b Harbhajan 2 (107 for 7)
Down the pitch and lofted straight to long-on
Sajid Mahmood c Harbhajan b Powar 8 (119 for 8)
Slogged high, superb catch running backward and taken very close to the ropes
Jamie Dalrymple c Dravid b Powar 24 (124 for 9)
Down the pitch and edged a drive to slip
James Anderson run out 1 (125 all out)
Smart pick up and throw by the bowler left the non-striker just short
Virender Sehwag c Strauss b Harmison 9 (18 for 1)
Chased a very wide one, good overhead catch at first slip
Irfan Pathan c Pietersen b Anderson 19 (68 for 2)
Superb two-handed catch at cover leaping up off a full-blooded drive
Rahul Dravid c Strauss b Anderson 4 (72 for 3)
Hung his bat out, and the edge was snaffled at slip
Sachin Tendulkar lbw b Harmison 35 (98 for 4)
Deceived by one which nipped back and kept a trifle low
Mahendra Singh Dhoni c Collingwood b Dalrymple 7 (119 for 5)
Wild swing low towards midwicket, excellent catch diving forward
Suresh Raina b Dalrymple 0 (119 for 6)
Clipped the inside edge, hit the pad and then rolled on to the stumps
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo