Harbhajan’s five torpedo England

England’s middle order frittered away a dominant position in Delhi, a spectacular collapse consigning them to a 39-run defeat in the opening ODI of the series as Harbhajan Singh took five wickets.

Despite Virender Sehwag’s early departure, his struggles against the short ball this winter continuing as he skied a pull off James Anderson for just seven. Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid regrouped, before England’s seamers casued havoc amongst the Indian batting.

Gambhir snicked Kabir Ali to Geraint Jones, before Yuvraj Singh’s flat-footed swat outside off-stump deflected the Worcestershire seamer back onto his own stumps. Kabir found what England had missed at Jaipur three days before, a way to dispose of Mohammad Kaif, running him out and reducing India to 68 for four.

When Dravid – dropped on 0 by Owais Shah – fell soon afterwards, bowled by an in-ducker from Liam Plunkett, India were deeper into the mire, and it was left to Suresh Raina and Irfan Pathan, with a 58-run parthership for the sixth wicket, to repair a measure of the damage. The niggardly econmy of Ian Blackwell’s left-arm spin stifled the run-rate as the batsmen looked to push on, before Raina holed out off Blackwell and Pathan found mid-off with a leading edge.

At 147 for seven, India were grateful to Harbhajan Singh – whose characteristically unorthodox 37 lent Mahendra Dhoni sufficient support to help the side past the 200-run barrier, but when Dhoni fell to Plunkett, the last two wickets followed in quick succession.

Facing a target of just 204, England found themselves immediately in trouble against Irfan Pathan’s swing bowling. Both Andrew Strauss and Shah fell in the first over, edging behind and trapped plumb LBW respectively, before Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior rebuilt.

The loss of Prior, top-edging a sweep off Harbhajan, notwithstanding, England seemed in complete control of the game as they eased to 117 for three inside twenty overs. Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff were particularly severe on Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, taking 17 from one over – before Dravid turned to Yuvraj’s part time left arm.

The spinner’s fifth ball – a rank full toss – was hoiked to Gautam Gambhir on the legside boundary, and the English wheels then proceeded to not so much fall off as disintegrate. Flintoff was trapped in front by Harbhajan as he played across the line, Jones was yorked by the off-spinner, and England had lost three wickets for three runs.

When Ian Blackwell fell shortly afterwards, once again picking out Gambhir on the ropes, England’s chances had fallen from the probable to the mathematical, and when Mohammad Kaif snaffled Paul Collingwood under the short leg helmet and Yuvraj trapped Kabir in front, the game was all but over. The final wicket fell after a seven-over last wicket stand between Plunkett and Anderson, with 12 overs still remaining of the game and England 39 in arrears and with much to think about ahead of the second game in the series, in Faridabad on Friday.

India 203
Harbhajan Singh 37, Rahul Dravid 34
Kabir Ali 4-45, James Anderson 2-41

England 164
Kevin Pietersen 46, Andrew Flintoff 41
Harbhajan Singh 5-31, Irfan Pathan 3-21

India won by 39 runs

Cricket Web Player of the Match
Harbhajan Singh (India) – 37 and 5-31

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