The final match in Group A was delicately poised when rain ended play after 20.3 overs of England's innings. They were 73 for 3 with the ball apparently moving more appreciably than it had all day and Graham Thorpe in resplendent form. Victory - or, at the very least, a tie, of which there have been precisely none in World Cup history - is now essential to England's qualification, and perhaps the country's continuing attention to the finer detail of the tournament.
When they arrived at the ground yesterday they were reasonably relaxed, if not about inflicting defeat on India and their array of wonderful batsmen, then of participation in the Super Sixes. For them to fail to advance they would not only have to lose but Zimbabwe would have to give South Africa a rare walloping. That was unthinkable given the South Africans' superiority and the Zimbabweans' mediocrity - but it happened all right.
No side in the world know better than the England the way to a gum a tree and how to get stuck there with Superglue. Their route in that direction this time was not entirely of their own making (played four, won three at this part in the tournament was as good as they dared hope three weeks ago) but at least extrication now depends on their own hands.
Any other scenario became invalid once South Africa were dismissed for 185. England could now lose by as little as one run today and still be outdone by Zimbabwe, despite being level on points. Of course, much depends on there actually being a match. England need to face 25 overs for that to be so, and, if rain were to intervene then, would need to be 100 for 3, 114 for 4 or 132 for 5 to win. Anything else is fanciful, but rain all day would give them a point and progress through the back door.
The World Cup needed a shock result but the hosts would probably have settled for it happening somewhere else, actually anywhere else, than Chelmsford.
England have needed a hero for a while and he will have to emerge today. India were achieving considerable movement with the white ball in the afternoon yesterday and, quite as importantly, were playing buoyantly. They were matched every inch of the way by Thorpe who struck five fours, four of them in the sumptuous category. He may be the key, but he is partnered by Neil Fairbrother. Never can his reputation as a high-calibre one-day player have been more firmly on the line.
The thought occurred that there was a tenuous juxtaposition between this being an interval, a chance to regroup, and the England coach, David Lloyd being a Manchester United supporter. During the European Cup final, the United manager, Alex Ferguson, gave a stirring speech. Whether it was the cause of his lads' victory or not it was probably one of the reasons they refused to submit - and look what happened.
Lloyd was fond of playing tapes of Churchillian oratory to his boys when he was first appointed. It may not need that today but a reminder of what England have done in the past at Edgbaston - the Ashes 1981 and 1997 for a start - may be handy. That match against Australia here two yeas ago - another false dawn - was much on the mind throughout the 70.3 overs yesterday.
Then, England were roared home by an excited and thrilled partisan crowd. The exultant noise they created was as memorable as the win in the First Test of the series. It was like that yesterday. Edgbaston was in the uproarious mood it tends to reserve most often for international Saturdays. The forward defensive prop was greeted with delight, singles were cheered to the echo, fours would brought the roof off - had Edgbaston got a roof. When the bat was beaten there was a cacophony and when wickets fell - three of them anyway - that, too, created outbreaks of delirium. It was compelling stuff. You wanted a carnival, this was it. Unfortunately, from England's viewpoint, all this was in support of India. Never can a side on home ground have felt so snubbed.
The early attention was not on how the matter might unfold as the day wore on but on whether Alec Stewart, not so long ago, one of the world's most useless tossers, could win it for the fifth time in a row. He could and created another quintet by inserting the opposition.
This was not without risk since the last time that had taken place three days previously, India had made 373 and put up a world record one-day partnership. England, as they have done throughout, bowled well. But their fifth bowler, a combination of Adam Hollioake and Andrew Flintoff conceded 62. The fifth bowler is a weakness which is being exploited.
But Angus Fraser and Mark Ealham were an immense consolation. A week earlier Fraser was, not for the first time in his career, heading towards oblivion, when he was whacked around The Oval by South Africa. But he has known adversity too long and too closely to be enveloped by it. He did well in the match against Zimbawe, yesterday he did better. He went for 29 in his first eight overs, one in his next two.
It was Ealham, steady as rock, won't let you down guv'nor, Ealham, who took the most precious wicket, Sachin Tendulkar. It was not a pitch to Smashin' Sachin's liking, and while the ball did not move extravagantly it did so enough to persuade any bowler to keep going (except perhaps Messrs Hollioake and Flintoff).
Tendulkar perished when he tried to pull Ealham from the off stump, was through the shot and lofted high to mid-wicket where Graeme Hick did the necessary. The little master, like most of India's batsmen, got a start, no more, though Rahul Dravid passed 50 for the fourth tme in five innings.
England's fielding was not at its most keen - two drops and an inability make direct hits - and 232 was probably around par. It looked more when England lost two rapid wickets both to the utterly unsung Debashish Mohanty. He had Stewart driving with the face open and two balls later bowled Hick, who misjudged the swing.
Hussain stayed around with the ball bobbling and the skies darkening but run scoring was neither easy nor frequent. He chopped on to Sourav Ganguly, another unlikely bowling figure. 73 for 3, 160 wanted, 29.3 overs left. Time for a hero.
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 King
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