England Fall to Indian Spinners

While England fought bravely and eventually fruitfully in the Test series in India, success in the shorter form of the game has proved elusive. England’s batting again slipped in Kochi, the scene of India’s four-wicket victory which sealed a series win for the home side. If the tourists continue to bat so irresponsibly a seven-nil whitewash could be on the cards, and regardless of the state of England’s injury-stricken side, questions will be asked about their thoughtless mental approach to the game.

Even so, India’s new-look side, bubbling with energy, must be afforded the credit they are due. Chasing 238 in steamy conditions, their depth and resourcefulness was evident yet again. Virender Sehwag clanked a brief but decisive 26, before Rahul Dravid and pinch-hitter Irfan Pathan put India in an unassailable position.

Captain Dravid’s impeccable footwork allowed him to manoeuvre the England spinners for constant singles and the odd boundary, while Pathan played his shots in a rapid 46. Just before the half-way point Dravid chipped Flintoff to mid-on for 65, but by then India were 130 for two and strolling, and a brief clatter of wickets did little to aid England’s situation. Pathan was stumped off Blackwell by Prior (deputising for Jones, who pulled a hamstring whilst batting), and Mohammad Kaif followed cheaply – brilliantly caught by Anderson in the covers – but the pure class of Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh settled the tie.

Yuvraj, in the midst of an imperial purple patch, danced serenely to 48, while the gifted teenager Raina stroked 21. Having added 72 together, they then both threw away their wickets through playful slogs, but the game was already up. Dhoni and Powar saw India ease home with over two overs remaining, not even feeling the need to accelerate as they neared the finishing post. England’s bowlers struggled in the heat and humidity, and had little to show for the undoubted effort.

Again, it was at the crease that England were totally outthought by Dravid. Once more it was the seamers who made the early incisions, Pathan trapping Strauss leg before and Sreesanth picking up Prior with a jaffa. However it was the clever utilisation of the spinners which brought the innings to a standstill, as the England middle and lower order imploded. Flintoff slapped Yuvraj to mid-wicket, Solanki was bowled through the gate by Powar, and Sehwag accounted for Blackwell and Batty. The nature of the dismissals raised an eyebrow or two: England were not being beaten by ripping turn or mystical variations, but by well thought-out and executed deliveries which they failed to comprehend.

Suspended amongst the early losses to the new-ball and the mindless dismissals to spin was an energetic stand of 91 between Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood. The pair were elevated up the order in a bold selection move, and its success questions the choice for Blackwell and Shah batting at three in preceding matches. Why leave your best batsmen down the order, to come in with the side struggling at 50 for three? Pietersen was restrained at first, but soon the boundaries began to flow and he negated the spin and swing perfectly to produce an 82 ball 77. Collingwood played his usual junior role, nudging singles and picking the gaps, which eventually proved to be his own downfall as Yuvraj clinched a spectacular return catch of an attempted push to leg.

Dravid now produced his tactical masterstroke by introducing the two delayed Powerplays. Instantly Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff went on the attack, and soon both were back in the pavilion. Having smashed such a fluent half-century, Pietersen’s innings again failed to scale the heights of a hundred. His ungainly slog to leg only succeeded in top-edging Harbhajan’s doosra to mid-wicket, and the innings slid rapidly downhill thereafter.

Geraint Jones remained a reassuringly calm influence, making the most of a timely spell of form to chisel out 49. Affected by injury for the latter part of his knock, he milked the spinners through the leg-side, and then lashed anything loose to his favourite backward point boundary. As usual, the runner caused carnage, and two run outs from Ajit Agarkar ended the England innings prematurely, a common occurrence throughout the series – much like the sight of Andrew Flintoff’s bedraggled side trudging from the intense heat following another defeat.

England 237 (48.4 overs)
Kevin Pietersen 77, Geraint Jones 49, Paul Collingwood 36
Virender Sehwag 2-31, Yuvraj Singh 2-34

India won by 4 wickets

India 238-6 (47.2 overs)
Rahul Dravid 65, Yuvraj Singh 48, Irfan Pathan 46
Andrew Flintoff 2-33, Ian Blackwell 2-41, James Anderson 2-53

India lead the seven match series 4-0

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