Harbhajan spins India to victory
Harbhajan Singh bounced back from his disappointing Test series with an allround performance to savour, as England were sent tumbling to a 39-run defeat in the first one-day international at Delhi.
Having managed just eight wickets in 148.4 overs in the Tests, Harbhajan at last showed a glimpse of his true colours with the second five-wicket haul of his one-day career, as India successfully defended a meagre total of 203. And that was not all - had it not been for his hard-hitting 37 in the latter stages of a disappointing batting performance, that total would have been considerably less defendable.
After being asked to bat first on an improbably grassy pitch, India's innings started aggressively, stuttered timidly as Kabir Ali and James Anderson got the better of the top order, and had slumped to a nadir of 147 for 7 before Harbhajan got stuck in with his unique brand of willow-wielding.
His 46-ball effort included three fours and a vast six off Liam Plunkett, and lifted his side past the psychologically significant 200-barrier. For all that England had performed creditably - Ali in particular who bowled a fast, full length that invited a reckless response - their failure to chase similar totals in Pakistan before Christmas was a warning of problems to come.
Sure enough, England's reply got off to the worst possible start, as Irfan Pathan burst out of the blocks in the manner that had reaped him a first-over hat-trick against Pakistan in the recent Karachi Test. Andrew Strauss and Owais Shah were his victims this time, bamboozled by fast, full, swinging deliveries that in one instance grazed the edge of the bat, and in the other, arced into the knee-roll for the most plumb lbw imaginable.
When Matt Prior, who has not yet convinced as an opening batsmen, swept loosely to backward square-leg to give Harbhajan the first of his five victims, England had slipped to 57 for 3, and it was clear that they had a serious battle on their hands. Even so, with Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff in harness, and a meagre target in their sights, India were soon forced onto the back foot by a range of exquisite attacking strokes.
For eight overs, it seemed there could be only one winner. Pietersen set the tone with a series of six boundaries in three overs, including five trademark whips through midwicket and a thumping cut-drive for four. Flintoff, after a circumspect start, followed his team-mate's lead with two massive sixes and a lofted drive for four off Sreesanth, but no sooner had he moved past 40 for the seventh international innings out of seven, the performance started to unravel.
Unsurprisingly, it was India's spinners who scrambled England's brains and turned a walk in the park into a tiptoe through a minefield. Yuvraj Singh made the key breakthrough as Pietersen hoisted a full-toss to deep midwicket, but when Flintoff followed without addition as missed an attempted sweep off Harbhajan, there was no looking back. One over later Geraint Jones's poor tour with the bat had been compounded by a now pumped-up Harbhajan, who deceived him with a beautifully flighted yorker.
England had lost three wickets for three runs, and at 120 for 6, their performance was in freefall. Ian Blackwell was expertly caught on the boundary as he too fell victim to the dreaded sweep, while Paul Collingwood was brilliantly snaffled by Mohammad Kaif at short leg, as Harbhajan tweaked another one out of the rough. Anderson and Liam Plunkett added 22 composed runs for the tenth wicket to give England a glimmer of hope, but Pathan returned to finish what he had started, ending with the superb figures of 3 for 21.
Earlier in the day it had been India's batsmen who were hell-bent on self-destruction, with Ali and Anderson combining with the new ball to reduce them to 68 for 4. Virender Sehwag was once again undone by the bouncer, Gautam Gambhir spoiled a feisty innings with a limp prod to the keeper, and when the middle-order of Kaif and Yuvraj mustered five runs between them, all eyes fell on India's captain, Rahul Dravid, who had been dropped on 0 by Shah at first slip.
He had ground his way to 34 when Plunkett burst through his defences with a high-kicking length ball, and though Suresh Raina and Irfan Pathan repaired some of the damage with a painstaking partnership of 58, it wasn't until Harbhajan came to the middle to produce the highest score of the innings that India truly believed they had a total they could fight for. With Harbhajan himself at the forefront of the defence, it proved in fact to be more than adequate.
Virender Sehwag c Plunkett b Anderson 7 (17 for 1)
Defeated by yet another short ball, top-edged pull to midwicket
Gautam Gambhir c Jones b Ali 25 (56 for 2)
Good-length delivery, faint edge to defensive push
Yuvraj Singh b Ali 1 (58 for 3)
Forcing off back foot, inside-edge onto stumps
Mohammad Kaif run out 4 (68 for 4)
Quick single, bat airborne at moment of impact
Rahul Dravid b Plunkett 34 (80 for 5)
Perfect length, inside-edge onto back leg then stumps
Suresh Raina c Collingwood b Plunkett 24 (138 for 6)
Hitting over the top, skewed drive to mid-on
Irfan Pathan c Plunkett b Anderson 28 (147 for 7)
Swipe across the line, fine low catch off leading edge at mid-off
Mahendra Singh Dhoni c Collingwood b Plunkett 20 (201 for 8)
Short and wide, slapped to point
Harbhajan Singh c Flintoff b Ali 37 (203 for 9)
Driven low to cover
Sreesanth c Pietersen b Ali 0 (203 for 10)
Slower ball driven high into the covers
Andrew Strauss c Dhoni b Pathan 0 (0 for 1)
Grazed edge to keeper
Owais Shah lbw b Pathan 4 (4 for 2)
Booming inswinger, struck on knee-roll
Matt Prior c Gambhir b Harbhajan 22 (57 for 3)
Top-edged sweep to backward square leg
Kevin Pietersen c Gambhir b Yuvraj 46 (117 for 4)
Hoisted full-toss to deep midwicket
Andrew Flintoff lbw b Harbhajan 41 (117 for 5)
Sweeping, struck in line
Geraint Jones b Harbhajan (120 for 6)
Yorked by flighted delivery
Ian Blackwell c Gambhir b Harbhajan 10 (137 for 7)
Swept high to deep midwicket, superbly judged catch inside rope
Paul Collingwood c Kaif b Harbhajan 8 (141 for 8)
Flicked to leg, brilliant take under the helmet
Kabir Ali lbw b Yuvraj 0 (142 for 9)
Topspinner fizzed into pads
Liam Plunkett c Dhoni b Pathan (164 for 10)
Thin steer to keeper
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo