Yuvraj overwhelms England once again
Few would have expected Yuvraj Singh to improve on a 78-ball 138 but he went one better in Indore, following up his second consecutive century - this time rescuing India from a top-order collapse - by dismissing four of England's top five batsmen. The contest was effectively ended when he got rid of Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen in the same over, ensuring India won by 54 runs.
Just when England's bowlers seemed to exercise control over India's powerful batting line-up, they were once again attacked by Yuvraj, who showed no traces of the back injury that troubled him in Rajkot. England were on top early in the game, having reduced India to 29 for 3, but the hosts recovered through a brisk partnership of 134 for the fourth wicket between Yuvraj and Gautam Gambhir. Yuvraj went on to score 118 off 122 balls and led India to 292 for 9.
The target was always going to challenge England and they seemed out of the contest when the asking rate soared towards nine around the 32th over. However, Pietersen decided to take the batting Powerplay and gave Flintoff the licence to break free. He obliged and smashed Harbhajan for three sixes - two over deep midwicket and one straight - in the 33rd over. Flintoff continued his awesome assault and England scored 59 off the final Powerplay, reducing the equation to 110 off 13 overs.
Enter Yuvraj and, with the field spread, he trapped Flintoff lbw with a faster one and bowled Pietersen through the bat-pad gap in the space of four balls. Those two blows virtually secured India's 2-0 lead in the series.
Yuvraj's spell was the second time he had to fire-fight in the match - India's situation bordered on the dire when he began his innings. This pitch, unlike the batting paradise in Rajkot, was two-paced and had variable bounce. Driving and hitting through the line - a feature of several innings in the first match - was hard, for the speed at which ball came on to bat was slower than the batsmen expected. Stuart Broad used the conditions cleverly, holding his length back and moving the ball into the right-hander, and was rewarded with three wickets in his first spell: Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma were dismissed while playing their shots too early.
Yuvraj hit his stride quickly, glancing a no-ball from Andrew Flintoff off his pads four four and pulling the free-hit into the stands at midwicket in the ninth over. Those couple of balls seemed to settle him down and thereafter he placed a flurry of pulls and drives into gaps in the outfield to give the innings direction.
Partnering Yuvraj was Gambhir, who grasped the nature of the pitch early and played accordingly. He rarely went hard at the ball and did not play away from the body. His off-side options were restricted because of a strong field but he did not get bogged down, instead nudging and pushing for runs while waiting for the boundary opportunity. England, and Anderson in particular, bowled several deliveries on leg stump which Gambhir flicked to find the boundary either side of the fielder at long leg.
India scored only 57 off the first 14 overs but Yuvraj and Gambhir took 106 off the next 16. Gambhir reached his half-century off 56 balls, brought up 1000 runs in 2008, and left England ruing a missed run-out opportunity off the very first ball off the match. Yuvraj took longer to reach his fifty - 61 balls - but his next 61 balls produced 66 runs as he attacked England's weaker bowlers and peppered the leg-side with 12 out of his 17 boundaries.
England tried to salvage the situation towards the end of the innings by dismissing Dhoni and Yuvraj just as India were beginning to go for broke. They conceded only 37 off India's Powerplay, taken between the 43rd and 48th over, but were assaulted by Yusuf Pathan, whose late surge included four brutal hits over the long-on and midwicket boundaries. Pathan reached 50 off 29 balls, his maiden ODI half-century, and scored 18 off the final over. India ended with 292 for 9, leaving England with a tough task to win their 500th ODI.
Chasing a daunting target England were jolted early by the run-out of Ian Bell. He pushed the ball towards cover, took on India's swiftest fielder - Suresh Raina - but was caught short by Raina's full-length dive and direct hit. India had two other chances to dismiss Prior, on 19 and 28, but first Rohit Sharma failed to hit the stumps at the bowlers' end, and then Yuvraj failed to latch on to a difficult chance at point.
The Prior-Shah partnership had an unsure start for the batsmen made the mistake of trying to hit the ball too hard. Shah, in particular, used a lot of bottom hand in his shots on the slow pitch and mistimed several as a result. They improved, though, and added 96 for the second wicket but the run-rate was considerably below what was required. They were dismissed in quick succession, on either side of the 25th over, and the task left for Flintoff and Pietersen to complete was simply beyond them.
George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo