England v India, Group E, Durban

Luminous India set-up South Africa game

With their future in the tournament on the line, India came out and produced a display of dazzling luminosity

S Rajesh in Durban

September 19, 2007

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Yuvraj Singh put the icing on a very well baked Indian cake © Getty Images
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With their future in the tournament on the line, India came out and produced a display of such dazzling luminosity that they've now given themselves every chance of making it to the semi-final stage. It was a performance that was full of self-belief at every stage, including right at the very start, when Mahendra Singh Dhoni went against the popular concept of winning the toss and batting first - only four times before this in the tournament had the captain winning the toss chosen to bat, and two of those games had been against Zimbabwe, when both Australia and England opted for batting practice.

The match wasn't won because of the toss, though. The coin falling in India's favour meant they were given the opportunity to do what they wanted to do - bat first - but what followed was a staggeringly assured batting performance.

Yuvraj's stunning assault was the icing, but the cake had been baked before that, when Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir put together 136 - the second-highest opening-partnership in Twenty20 internationals - in less than 15 overs. As much as the runs they put together, what was impressive was the manner in which they went about their job.

With the ball doing a bit early on, both batsmen kept their big shots in the bag for the first 20 minutes. After four overs, India had scored 23 - that's almost a run a ball - with the ball going beyond the boundary just once, when Sehwag earned four leg-byes from an attempted flick. The boundary hitting was terrific, but even more heartening was the manner in which they sniffed out scoring opportunities, patting the good balls for singles, and stealing twos where many other pairs might have settled for one.



Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir played the big shots, but the running was electric too © Getty Images
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Gambhir has often talked about his comfort levels when opening with Sehwag, and today's performance demonstrated the kind of understanding and faith that can only come with years of having batted together.

Both batsmen picked the right bowlers to attack too. On a surface which had a bit for the fast bowlers - Andrew Flintoff, in particular, caused Sehwag some early trouble by jagging the ball back into him - both batsmen waited for the pace to drop. Paul Collingwood, Dimitri Mascarenhas and Darren Maddy were just ideal for the purpose: their four overs collectively went for 48, and that gave the innings the momentum which then cascaded into a torrent of runs in the end.

For Gambhir, it was the second successive half-century in the tournament, and the perfect retort to those who suggest he can only score against soft bowling attacks. His technique isn't the greatest, but he goes for his shots fearlessly and backs himself to pull them off. Some of his drives through the off side, backing away and giving himself room to hit through the covers, showed just how high his confidence level is. With Sehwag hungry for runs after missing out on so much international cricket recently, this pair is hungry and confident.

Even after such an outstanding start, India needed someone to apply the finishing touches - something that they have struggled with in the past - and Yuvraj played a blinder that exceeded by far even the most optimistic expectations. His ability to hit ball cleanly is well known in international cricket; here, everything fell into place just perfectly for six deliveries - Stuart Broad bowled in the hitting zone every time, didn't try to change the pace, and Yuvraj was so in the zone that almost everything found the middle of the bat; even when it didn't - the fifth six was mistimed - it still had enough to clear the ropes.

To England's credit, they didn't let go of the run-chase, with the top five all making handy contributions. To chase down 219, though, England needed far more than that. India have an even tougher hurdle to cross on Thursday, but this result at least means there'll be plenty at stake when South Africa take them on in the last match of the group.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.
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