| Suresh Raina, on way to his 83, on Sunday |
Dharamsala: England have always proved to be a tough opposition in conditions where the ball moves around.
On Sunday, they revelled under the lively conditions at the HPCA Stadium, inflicting a seven-wicket defeat on India. In the process, they reduced the margin of the series defeat to 2-3.
After losing the Test series to England and ODIs to Pakistan, India salvaged some pride by winning this series.
India ended the series at 119 rating points in the ICC rankings to re-claim the No.1 spot. England, too, finished on 119 points, only to see India finish ahead of them by 0.2 when the ratings are calculated beyond the decimal point.
True a 4-1 victory margin would have gone a long way in boosting the confidence of the players, but India would do well to take the positives from this series.
The new-ball attack comprising Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shami Ahmed and Ishant Sharma looks promising while the form of Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni provides solidity to the middle-order. The performance of Ravindra Jadeja should also end Dhoni’s search for a bowling all-rounder.
The architect of England’s win was Ian Bell, who hit the only century of the series. Bell played a classic innings, timing and driving the ball immaculately. In the end, he remained unbeaten on 113 (143 balls, 13x4, 1x6). Joe Root (31 off 49 balls, 4x4) and Eoin Morgan (40 .. off 40 balls, 3x6) also made useful contributions.
The England bowlers, particularly Tim Bresnan who took four wickets, set the early momentum. Pace, swing, line and length — the England bowlers ticked all the boxes, refusing to provide any freebies to the Indian batsmen. Such was the accuracy of the bowlers that they forced the Indian batsmen to commit mistakes.
With the pacers were bowling a probing line, the Indian batsmen needed to apply themselves. But to the crowd’s disappointment, they failed to show character.
That India managed to set a target of 227 was largely because of Suresh Raina’s heroics with the bat. He stood out with a splendid 83 off 98 balls with eight hits to the fence and two sixes.
With such a small total to defend, the task would always have been difficult for the bowlers.
Not that the Bells and the Roots were not beaten by the Indian bowlers, but the attack, unlike the weather, simply didn’t have the sting to affect breakthroughs.
Bell mixed caution with aggression, batting deep in his crease and using his feet well to cut and pull the ball. He rotated the strike and opened up once he got used to the pace and bounce of the track.
Bell reached the 90s with a reverse sweep off Ravichandran Ashwin, who was trying too many variations without much success. He reached a well-deserved century by clipping Ishant to the mid-wicket fence.
He was instrumental in guiding the young Root for a third wicket partnership of 79. Later, partnering Morgan, he struck an unbroken stand of 84 to guide England home.
Earlier, England bowlers vindicated captain Alastair Cook’s decision of electing to field as they got regular breakthroughs. That England were sloppy on the field — they dropped four catches — allowed India to avert a complete embarrassment.
India lost their first three wickets because the batsmen could not get the measure of the wicket.
Bresnan struck as early as in the fourth over of the day, getting rid of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli with two consecutive deliveries.
Yuvraj Singh was quick to follow suit when Eoin Morgan caught him at point after Finn induced a leading edge off him. Gambhir (24) threw away his wicket and Dhoni was quickly dismissed.
With India reeling at 79 for five at the end of 22 overs, Raina’s 78-run sixth wicket partnership with Jadeja (39 off 65 balls, 1x4, 2x6) was instrumental in steadying the ship. A late flourish from Bhuvneshwar (31 off 30 balls, 5x4) gave respectability to the total.
Ahead of the last one-dayer, Raina had expressed his desire to bat higher up the order and spend more time at the crease. The left-handed batsman made most of the opportunity when he walked into the middle during the seventh over.
He started nervously — he was dropped at second slip by James Tredwell off a Chris Woakes delivery after being hit on his shoulder by Finn — but grew in confidence as the innings progressed.
Three delightful boundaries off a Woakes over early on soothed his nerves, before he started to cart the bowlers around.