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April 6, 2006
An almost casual mid-innings slump meant that a smidgen of interest remained to the end, but in reality this was yet another procession for an Indian side that has learnt to win matches without going anywhere near full throttle. Helped by England spluttering and seizing up when they should have been flooring the pedal, Rahul Dravid and his boys needed no second invite, and an eighth win in succession gave them yet another series win with three games left to play.
When Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood were rattling along, a score in the region of 300 was a distinct possibility. Their 91-run partnership - from just 16 overs - had been characterised by purposeful running between wickets, and well-placed biffs into the wide open spaces. Pietersen, who averages close to 70 while maintaining a run-a-ball strike-rate, is a colossus of the one-day game and a class apart from his team-mates, but yet again his dismissal - to the ill-judged sweep - was the signal for the innings to descend from bang to whimper.
Yuvraj Singh's stupendous catch to send back Collingwood had given India some respite, but it was Pietersen's failure to convert an accomplished effort into a monumental one that cost England the game. Once Flintoff was deceived in flight by Yuvraj, the game was as good as lost, with only Geraint Jones's defiance thwarting a superb choke job from the Indian slow bowlers.
To his credit, Dravid was never flustered, rotating the bowlers cleverly and waiting until the 34th over to enforce the third Powerplay. The spinners backed him up beautifully, with Harbhajan Singh and Ramesh Powar a persistent threat on a pitch that offered more than a hint of turn. The support cast was no less worthy, with Yuvraj and Virender both scalping valuable wickets.
Having passed up the opportunity to blood Robin Uthappa in a live game, Dravid then watched from the other end as Sehwag produced another frustrating cameo. Given how poorly he plays the horizontal-bat strokes, the attempted hook off Matthew Hoggard was a bizarre choice of shot, but having escaped that, the manner of his dismissal - mis-hitting a long hop from Ian Blackwell - was sinful enough to warrant at least a couple of sessions in the confession booth.
Sehwag's woes present a real conundrum for the management. Do they now give him a rest for the meaningless games that follow, or do they keep the faith in the hope that he won't keep squandering starts? The dilemma is no less with Mohammad Kaif, who can't buy a run at the moment, and whose attempt to hit his way out of a slump only resulted in a spectacular catch for James Anderson.
Once you separate emotion and loyalty from cold facts, it's clear that both Uthappa and Venugopal Rao need to be given their chances in the upcoming games. With the exception of Dravid, Yuvraj and Irfan Pathan, no man in this batting line-up is irreplaceable, and a break from the tour merry-go-round will probably help both Sehwag and Kaif to get their head around what's been going wrong.
In times gone by, the slump precipitated by Dravid's overeager swipe at a Flintoff delivery might have been terminal, but this is a team that chases without fear of failure. Yuvraj, who continues to bat like a dream, and a slightly out-of-sorts Suresh Raina took the team to the doorstep, before Mahendra Singh Dhoni - one of the prime catalysts of change, he was serenaded to the middle by fans hankering for his thrill-a-minute antics - finished things off. A year ago, India left Kochi triumphant, only to lapse back into the losing habit against Pakistan. For this team, having chased down a target for an unparalleled 15th successive time, those bad old days are now merely a cautionary tale.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo.Feeds: Dileep Premachandran
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