India sweep to series win
India's remarkable winning streak in the limited overs version of the game continued as they blanked out England, taking an unassailable 4-0 lead in this seven-match series with a four-wicket win at the Nehru Stadium in Kochi. The stifling heat and humidity had its say on both teams but where most of India's gambles paid off, England's every initiative was thwarted.
When Andrew Flintoff won the toss, and had a full complement of fit players to pick from, it seemed as though the stage could be set for England to come back into this series as they chose to bat first and made all the right noises. The fall of the openers, Andrew Strauss and Matt Prior, to India's seamers, with just 26 on the board, was a cause for concern.
England, though, had their three best ODI batsmen, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Flintoff coming to bat in succession and if one of them could get a big score, India would have been under pressure. It certainly seemed as though this was what England was hoping for, as Pietersen and Collingwood set about laying a base.
Collingwood joined Pietersen and the two continued to apply the pressure on India. Although 26 for 2 was a tricky spot for England to be in, Pietersen and Collingwood batted with a sureness missing in the opening pair. They did not allow the spinners to settle, sweeping well both along the ground and in the air in the arc from fine leg to midwicket.
When 91 had been added for the third wicket, and England were threatening to really run away with the game, they lost a wicket against the run of play. Yuvraj Singh got a floater to grip the pitch a touch and Collingwood's attempt to work the ball through midwicket only resulted in a leading edge. As the ball floated back towards the bowler Yuvraj arrested his movement towards the off, dived to his left and pulled off a sharp one-handed diving catch. Collingwood had made 36 while Pietersen had already gone past the half-century mark.
Flintoff joined Pietersen and there were no fireworks to begin with. Flintoff spent some time getting his eye in, sizing up the bounce and spin the pitch was affording India's spinners. He knew full well that Dravid was yet to take the two Powerplays due, and this meant England could afford to play out a few quiet overs. At any rate the runs came merrily along, and England reached 150 before the 30-over mark.
But Harbhajan Singh, obviously enjoying the bounce in the pitch and the fact that slowly but surely the amount of purchase off the surface was increasing, sent down a fizzing doosra outside the off and Pietersen's premeditated sweep to on resulted in a top edge to Yuvraj in the midwicket region. At 77 Pietersen was gone, and from that point India took control.
Flintoff had blocked carefully to begin with but not long after Pietersen was dismissed he tried to heave Yuvraj to leg and watched Dravid dive forward and snap up a sharp catch at short midwicket. With Flintoff also gone, England were slipping at 155 for 5.
With the bulk of the batting back in the dressing-room, India's spinners, especially the part-timers, came to the fore, and climbed all over England's lower order. It was only an industrious 49 from Geraint Jones, who picked up an injury and had to use a runner for part of his innings that pushed England to 237. Virender Sehwag snapped up two quick wickets, and the fielding rose in support with a couple of run outs to mop up the innings and for the fourth consecutive time in this series England had failed to bat 50 overs.
From there on England's only real chance of winning was to pick up quick wickets and run through the Indian top-order. But that did not happen as Sehwag, still not at his best but good enough to slap away slower balls to the fence, and Dravid put 54 on the board before the first wicket fell. Sehwag pulled a long-hop from Ian Blackwell straight to Solanki on the leg-side fence.
Dravid had Pathan for company and the two stitched together a stable partnership for the second wicket that put England out of the match. There was no real dip in the scoring as the ones and twos came easily enough and Dravid was able to pick off the boundaries when the spinners erred even slightly in length. He used the depth of the crease superbly, either coming right forward and driving, or sliding back, transferring weight from one foot to the other and cutting backward of square.
When Dravid did fall, chipping Flintoff to mid-off, on 65, it was very much against the run of play, but India already had 130 on the board. Even when Pathan (46) and the unlucky and out-of-form Mohammad Kaif were dismissed with 152 on the board, there was enough batting to come to cover for a late collapse. Yuvraj, enjoying the best form of his life, helped himself to 48 and Raina added 21 runs to his career and though both threw away their wickets with impulsive strokes on the doorstep of victory India went past the line with four wickets to spare. You really could not fault England for their effort - they fought till the last run - but you had to concede that they were comprehensively outplayed by India.
Andrew Strauss lbw b Pathan 7 (10 for 1)
Trapped in front by a fullish delivery
Matt Prior c Dhoni b Sreesanth 14 (26 for 2)
Pushed at an outswinger and edged fine to the keeper
Paul Collingwood c & b Yuvraj 36 (117 for 3)
Brilliantly caught and bowled off the leading edge
Kevin Pietersen c Yuvraj b Harbhajan 77 (153 for 4)
Top-edged to on trying to sweep a doosra
Andrew Flintoff c Dravid b Yuvraj 12 (155 for 5)
Heaved to short midwicket
Vikram Solanki b Powar 12 (172 for 6)
Bowled through the gate after being beaten in the air and off the pitch
Ian Blackwell c & b Sehwag 6 (197 for 7)
Came down the pitch and popped a simple return catch
Gareth Batty lbw b Sehwag 2 (203 for 8)
Adjudged lbw when struck marginally outside the line while playing a shot
Matthew Hoggard run out (Agarkar) 7 (231 for 9)
Backed up too much as Agarkar fielded in his follow through and threw the stumps down
Geraint Jones run out (Agarkar/Pathan) 49 (237 for 9)
Stranded in a mix-up
Virender Sehwag c Solanki b Blackwell 26 (54 for 1)
Pulled a long-hop to midwicket
Rahul Dravid c Hoggard b Flintoff 65 (130 for 2)
Chipped to mid-off
Irfan Pathan st Prior b Blackwell 46 (152 for 3)
Came down the pitch and missed a wide delivery
Mohammad Kaif c Anderson b Flintoff 5 (152 for 4)
Brilliantly caught by Anderson diving full-length at cover
Suresh Raina c Blackwell b Anderson 21 (224 for 5)
Slogged to mid-on trying to finish with a flourish
Yuvraj Singh c Prior b Anderson 48 (224 for 6)
Flashed a wide one and edged to the keeper
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo