Yuvraj century sets up crushing win
First days for an opposition captain in India don't get much worse. Kevin Pietersen's decision to field because of an early morning start in Rajkot backfired spectacularly as India galloped out of the blocks and never looked back. What seemed a brave decision turned into an utter disaster with India posting 387 for 5 in 50 overs of ballistic strokeplay. Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag added 127 for the first wicket, after which Yuvraj Singh overcame a stiff back to slam an unbeaten 138 from only 78 balls.
It was the fastest ODI hundred against England, while India's total beat the previous best against this team - Pakistan's 353 in Karachi in 2005. It was also India's best total at home and second highest anywhere. England could only reply with 229, and suffered their third heaviest ODI defeat ever.
The last time Yuvraj scored a hundred in a limited-overs game was on October 5 2007 against Australia. He began in the 24th over, after Sehwag had been brilliantly caught by Ian Bell at midwicket for a 73-ball 85. Shortly into his innings, Yuvraj had problems with his back and needed a brace. Steve Harmison decided to test him with some short balls and, though Yuvraj took his eyes off them, he pulled consecutive boundaries and rounded off the over with a steer past slip for four more. Those three strokes set the tone.
India took the third Powerplay after the 34th over, a move which prompted Pietersen to bring back Andrew Flintoff. Yuvraj, who had Gambhir running for him, took the opportunity to break free by hitting sixes off Flintoff and Harmison before raising his fifty with a classy off-drive. Yuvraj's partnership with Suresh Raina for the third wicket had added 89 off 78 balls before his partner scooped Flintoff to backward point for 43.
Yusuf Pathan came and went for 0, but Yuvraj, not disturbed by the double blow, stood his ground and swatted a wayward Stuart Broad for six and four. He brought up the 300 - and the fifty partnership with Mahendra Singh Dhoni - by smashing Samit Patel out of the ground in the 44th over.
A 20-year-old Indian record for the fastest century (Mohammad Azharuddin's 62-ball ton against New Zealand) was under threat but Yuvraj was probably unaware and turned the ball off his pads for a single when he was on 94 off 61 balls. He reached his ninth hundred off his 64th ball and lofted Flintoff for two sixes in the 47th over and took another 18 off him in the 49th. Yuvraj's 138 was one shy of his career best.
The platform for Yuvraj's blitz, however, had been by India's openers early in the day. Sehwag and Gambhir tucked into some generous offerings from James Anderson and Broad and added 127 in good time. Paul Collingwood took the ball after the drinks break and Sehwag slammed his first two balls for six. The second shot, a disdainful sweep into the stands at midwicket, raised his fifty, from 44 balls, and India's 200. Gambhir - who had crossed 2000 ODI runs - followed Sehwag to fifty, from 59 balls, but became the first casualty. Dancing down to Patel, he holed out to Owais Shah at long-off. Sehwag smashed Patel for 15 runs off four balls in the 24th over before he was splendidly caught by Bell. England needed something extraordinary to stop Sehwag, but failed to keep Yuvraj quiet.
Spin had been expected to play a key role, but by the time the first spinner appeared England were already four down thanks to the discipline of Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel. Both started well, bowling short of a length outside the off stump. Matt Prior fell for 4, edging Munaf to Sehwag at slip, and Shah was caught by the same fielder in the next over, giving Zaheer, who was playing his 150th ODI, his first wicket.
Maintaining a steady line and moving the ball both ways, Zaheer took two wickets in the 11th over. Bell nibbled a wide one to Dhoni but the prize scalp was Flintoff, unfortunate to be adjudged lbw to a delivery that pitched just outside leg stump. Paul Collingwood's 150th ODI appearance was one to forget: he wafted at a wide delivery from RP Singh and feathered a catch to Dhoni.
Pietersen had few qualms and settled quickly into his stride, collecting three boundaries off RP Singh. He kept things simple and rotated the strike without fuss, adding 71 with Patel. Just after the 25-over mark, Patel swung at Harbhajan Singh, missed, and was stumped for a run-a-ball 28. Rohit Sharma nailed a smart throw from cover to send Pietersen (63) on his way and the rest flittered away by the 38th over. Ravi Bopara's lusty hitting took the six tally for this match to 22, and his rapid fifty helped England avert their heaviest defeat.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo