The toss was widely expected to be influential, and just as England thrived on it against Pakistan last Saturday, so it undermined them tonight as India coasted to an 82-run win at Kingsmead. Exemplary bowling, including a career-best six for 23 from Ashish Nehra, unstitched England under the lights, and India are virtually through to the Super Sixes while England's progress is less assured.
Set 251 to win, England began disastrously when Nick Knight, after calling for an optimistic sharp single from the first ball of the second over, was thrown out by the diving Mohammed Kaif at extra cover.
Excellent bowling from Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan followed, with Marcus Trescothick struggling to lay bat on ball. After one defiant, off-driven boundary, he was put out of his misery by Zaheer, whom he pulled off the splice to Sachin Tendulkar at backward square leg.
After taking one for 14 from six overs, Zaheer made way for Nehra, who was to make his predecessor's figures look ordinary. After clubbing successive boundaries back past Srinath, Nasser Hussain, trying to cut Nehra, got a thin edge through to Rahul Dravid.
The next ball saw the end of Alec Stewart, caught in front of his stumps like a rabbit in headlights. Although Nehra could not complete the hat-trick, he delivered a further body blow when Michael Vaughan edged another ball of full length to Dravid.
Andy Flintoff briefly threw off the shackles, clouting Harbhajan Singh for a massive six over long-on. But Paul Collingwood got another peach of a ball from Nehra that squared him up, flying off the edge to Virender Sehwag at slip.
Craig White, driving expansively at Nehra outside the off stump, was another victim for Dravid, and Ronnie Irani edged to slip, enabling Nehra to end a fantastic spell with a double-wicket maiden.
Flintoff did what he could to improve England's run rate, taking two tall leg-side sixes off Ganguly on the way to a half-century which completed a fine all-round performance. But on 64, the big Lancastrian fell victim to a superb catch by Sehwag at wide mid-on, attempting another boundary off a Srinath full pitch. It ended when James Anderson was palpably lbw to Zaheer.
When India batted earlier, it took a bustling fifth-wicket partnership of 62 by Dravid and Yuvraj Singh to revive them before Dravid (62) was dismissed in the final over. Flintoff starred in an otherwise indifferent England attack, with two for 15 off his ten overs.
Tendulkar made an excellent run-a-ball 50, after clipping the expensive Caddick for a delightful square-leg boundary in the first over of the day. There were early moral victories for England before Sehwag opened the throttle against Anderson, finding the fence at long-on, backward of point and extra cover. Caddick was treated with similar disdain next over, as Tendulkar hit him for four through square leg and six over mid-wicket.
Forced into a bowling change, Hussain turned to Flintoff, who did the trick in his first over. Sehwag got a leading edge as he tried to turn him to leg, and Flintoff comfortably held the return catch.
Tendulkar went to his 50 in the 15th over, but the critical breakthrough came with the second ball after the 15-over drinks break. Flintoff found extra bounce and Tendulkar, not quite over a square drive, was comfortably taken by Collingwood at backward point. When Ganguly went, driving White high and straight for Trescothick to take the catch running round from mid-on, India scented trouble.
Irani and Collingwood kept them in check, backed up by excellent fielding, with one diving, one-handed save by Hussain in the covers outstanding. Boundaries were few and far between, although Mongia, missed by Stewart cutting at Collingwood, took one through mid-wicket off Irani.
Collingwood had his revenge when Mongia was out tamely, plumb lbw hitting across a straight ball. But Dravid and Yuvraj then built a vital partnership, initially maintaining the momentum in ones and twos, although Yuvraj opened out with a huge on drive for six off Irani.
To England's relief Anderson, bowling round the wicket to the left-handed Yuvraj, cramped him up as he tried to force through extra cover, where Hussain leapt to hold a fine catch with both hands above his head.
Dravid continued to flourish, drilling Anderson for a leg-side six to reach 50. He lost Kaif in the last over, swinging Caddick high to Flintoff, and was himself caught next ball, clouting a slower ball to Collingwood at long-on. Zaheer was immediately run out by Stewart attempting a bye, and when Srinath hit Caddick to Trescothick at deep extra, the innings had ended with four wickets off as many balls.
Much to England's dismay the clatter continued after the break, and they now need an unlikely win over Australia in their final group match - or a series of other results to go their way - to secure a Super Six place.