It all seemed quite straightforward. For England to fail to progress they would have to lose to India and Zimbabwe would have to beat the tournament favourites, the apparently infallible South Africans. The first was not inconceivable, but the second was surely out of the question.
By the time the rain came at Birmingham, England's worst fears were being realised. Chasing an Indian total of 232, not big but not small either, they were 73 for 3 after 20.3 overs. And South Africa were being threatened with embarrassment at Chelmsford.
It was terrible news and the Birmingham pitch did not improve it. England lost two quick wickets with the ball jagging about. Alec Stewart drove wit the bat face a tad too open and was caught at second slip and Graeme Hick, too, played a shot not quite appropriate to the dramatic movement. When Nasser Hussain went it was close but tilting towards India, and then the weather intervened. England needed South Africa to make 200 against Zimbabwe if they were to lose and had to rely on net run rate to qualify from Group A. They had to rely on others in case they could not rely on themselves. And for the first time the spectre of Duckworth-Lewis loomed.
Edgbaston was in its uproarious mood, the one it captures for all international Saturdays. From the outset, forward defensive pushes were greeted as though the bowler was being put in his place, singles brought vast outpourings of delight. When boundaries were struck, the roof, had there been one, would have come off.
This support neither ceased nor wavered. Unfortunately for England it was directed at India. Rarely, if ever, can a side on home soil have felt quite so snubbed. Nor might they have suspected what lay in store: the sides had never met at the ground in a one-dayer.
It made for dramatic, compelling stuff even when the cricket was stodgy, which, on a slow pitch granting the white ball its normal quota of movement (from handsome to extravagant), it frequently was. You want a festival, this was it.
England responded mightily well to the incessant, delirious chanting - "India, India, we love you" was perhaps given the most regular airing. They have bowled well throughout the World Cup and their fifth match was no exception. True, their two leading bowlers, Darren Gough and Alan Mullally each went for more than five an over and, more disturbingly if there were to be Super Six stage battles ahead, their fifth, the combination of Adam Hollioake and Andrew Flintoff, conceded 62.
But Angus Fraser and Mark Ealham were immense compensation. Fraser, not for the first time in an auspicious career looked as though he might be finished a week earlier when South Africa thumped him all round The Oval. He eased himself back against Zimbabwe and yesterday against the tournament's leading scorers he yielded nothing.
His perceived lack of variation seemed not to count on this pitch. He was accurate and he was not for the driving. Fraser's first eight-over spell cost 29, his other two overs later went for one. That he was wicketless was unfair, but in the context of the innings it did not matter much.
Ealham captured two crucial wickets including the most prized on the planet, that of Sachin Tendulkar. As usual, he did not do much with the ball but he did enough. He made the batsman think of what might be coming next. Ealham is an irritant and he is England's irritant.
The toss was the first must-see ritual of the day. Could Alec Stewart, not long ago the most useless tosser in world cricket, make it five out of five? He could and also made it a quintet by asking the opposition to bat. This was the obvious policy but that did not nullify its risks. The last time India were inserted they made 373, which included the highest partnership in one-day history and that had been only three days earlier.
The crowd noise apart, there was no intitial drama. Gough, consistently admirable for all of a year, was not quite at his best early on. His opening four overs went for 22. It was ninth over when the nature of the contest changed. Alan Mullally replaced Gough at the pavilion end. Immediately he found prodigious movement. Five times in his first over he might have had Sadagopan Ramesh's wicket, beating him four times and inducing an uncontrolled inside edge once.
This could not last and Ramesh inevitably edged to slip. The trouble with this was that it brought in Rahul Dravid. That correct, assured method was in evidence at once. There was movement but it was not going England's way. The portents were not compeletely encouraging for England. Sourav Ganguly, looking in fairish nick for a man with 183 behind him, escaped a chance to backward point, the ball bouncing on the half volley marginally in front of Hussain.
But they got the break they needed when Ealham's palm grazed a straight drive from Dravid as he followed up. It diverted into the stumps. Ganguly was gone. There was, of course, trouble with this dismissal and it loomed in the diminutive figure of Tendulkar. Cue more bedlam.
Smashin' Sachin could not deliver what his followers craved. The pitch was not to his liking. It played havoc with his serene timing, that and Ealham's use of it. There was the odd dismissive shot just to remind us but it was not wholly convincing.
While overs were hardly running out they were not plentiful either and Tendulkar attempted to pull Ealham from off stump. He was through the shot, got underneath it and Hick took the catch. The rate slowed, England had kept at it as they promised they would.
For a a few minutes it looked as though Hollioake and Flintoff would cost them dear but Dravid over-confidently tried to whack the tyro Lancastrian to somewhere near Villa Park and lofted only to long-on. This, the young man might have done better to recall, was the wide estate of Edgbaston, not the back garden of Taunton.
India's middle-order competed well without ever getting in. But totals of around 230 have been around par for just about the whole World Cup and as the haze deepened and the skies darkened England were about to find out how difficult it would be to match.
Andrew Longmore, page 3
SCOREBOARD FROM EDGBASTON
England won toss
S C Ganguly run out (Ealham) 40
(Bowler palmed straight drive from Dravid on to stumps; 99 min, 59 balls, 6 fours)
S Ramesh c Hick b Mullally 20
(Edged to second slip after being squared up; 57 min, 41 balls, 2 fours)
R S Dravid c Ealham b Flintoff 53
(Drove slower ball to long-on; 116 min, 82 balls, 6 fours)
S R Tendulkar c Hick b Ealham 22
(Got underneath attempted pull to midwicket; 50 min, 40 balls, 2 fours)
*M Azharuddin c Hussain b Ealham 26
(Well-judged running catch from slash to point; 38 min, 35 balls, 3 fours)
A D Jadeja c Fraser b Gough 39
(Steepling catch to mid-off from attempted straight drive; 40 min, 30 balls, 5 fours)
N R Mongia b Mullally 2
(Missed full toss making room for shot; 13 min, 5 balls
J Srinath b Gough 1
(Beaten by full length in-swinger; 2 min, 2 balls )
A Kumble not out 6
(12 min, 8 balls)
B K V Prasad not out 2
(3 min, 3 balls)
Extras (lb7, w10, nb4) 21
Total (for 8, 219 min, 50 overs) 232
Fall: 1-49 (Ramesh), 2-93 (Ganguly), 3-139 (Tendulkar), 4-174 (Dravid), 5-188 (Azharuddin), 6-209 (Mongia), 7-210 (Srinath), 8-228 (Jadeja).
Did not bat: D S Mohanty.
Bowling: Gough 10-0-51-2 (nb2,w3) (4-0-16-0 4-0-22-0 2-0-13-2), Fraser 10-2-30-0 (w2) (8-1-29-0 2-1-1-0), Mullally 10-0-54-2 (nb1,w4) (6-0-30- 1 4-0-24-1), Ealham 10-2-28-2 (nb1,w1) (6-1-14-0 2-1-1-1 2-0-13-1), Flintoff 5-0-28-1 (2-0-14-0 3-0-14-1), Holli oake 5-0-34-0 (one spell).
Progress: 50 in 62 min, 83 balls. 100 in 112 min, 151 balls. 150 in 162 min, 223 balls. 200 in 199 min, 279 balls. 15 overs score: 59-1.
Dravid 50: 110 min, 77 balls, 6 fours.
N Hussain b Ganguly 33
(Chopped wide short ball on to stumps; 90 min, 63 balls, 3 fours)
*A J Stewart c Azharuddin b Mohanty 2
(Edged firm-footed drive to second slip; 14 min, 9 balls))
G A Hick b Mohanty 0
(Edge on to stumps from angled bat; 1 min, 1 ball)
G P Thorpe not out 31
(81 min, 45 balls, 6 fours)
N H Fairbrother not out 1
(7 min, 6 balls)
Extras (lb1, w4, nb1) 6
Total (for 3, 98 min, 20.3 overs) 73
Fall: 1-12 (Stewart), 2-13 (Hick), 3-72 (Hussain).
To bat: A Flintoff, A J Hollioake, M A Ealham, D Gough A R C Fraser, A D Mullally.
Bowling: Srinath 6-2-19-0 (one spell), Mohanty 7.3-0-36-2 (nb1,w4) (3- 0-18-2 4.3-0-18-0), Prasad 5-0-8-0, Ganguly 2-0-9-1 (one spell each).
Progress: 50 in 64 min, 86 balls. 15 overs score: 55-2. Rain stopped play at 4.38pm.
Umpires: D B Hair and Javed Akhtar. TV Replay Umpire: D B Cowie.
Match Referee: P J P Burge. Compiled: Jo KingReuse content