England 125 India 126-6: Duck for Flintoff leaves England in a flap

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The Independent Online

Brave new world, same old story. England, apparently rejuvenated and looking as frisky as a spring lamb during a week of acclimatisation, were left defeated and appearing as rough as a butcher's dog when the action started yesterday.

Their batting, in which they recorded their lowest innings score in 58 one-day internationals against India, was matched only by their bowling which allowed the opposition to win the opening match in the Champions Trophy by four wickets with 20 overs left. That margin reflects belated resistance and some honourable effort but should not conceal the truth that at the start of each innings, when it truly counted, England lacked method, style, endeavour, gumption and luck.

This was merely the beginning of a long winter and in anticipating the match the previous day, the returning captain, Andrew Flintoff, had warned that not too much should be read into it. He had a point. It would also be possible to read something into this result when there is an Ashes series and a World Cup around the corner.

Flintoff made a seven-ball duck in his return to the fray after a four-month absence, but if one of several concerns had to be singled out, it would be the form of Stephen Harmison. Although it was Harmison's first competitive match since the fourth Test against Pakistan - and he is a bowler who needs to find his groove - his opening burst was aberrant stuff by any standards.

"Big Harmy", as his friend Flintoff refers to him, produced an opening over which contained three wides (of the widest variety), three fours, yielded 20 runs and, barely believably, a wicket as Virender Sehwag stretched vainly to smash a ball which would have been called as another wide, and managed only to drive it high to slip. His second spell was of so much a higher order that his overall figures resided comfortably in the realms of respectability. In a way, however, that embodied the team: the damage had already been done.

The side can take some refuge (and probably will) in the notion that there is still much to play for and that things can only get better. All true, but the manner of the defeat was as unfortunate as the defeat itself. It showed nearly all the side's one-day shortcomings.

The mild batting recovery from 27 for 4 allied to the England bowlers' response when five more wickets went down, the last four of them quickly, after India had romped to 68 from 10 overs, might have been welcome for a squad which always searches for the positives (and has become accustomed to doing so in the wreckage of defeat) but they provided only flimsy camouflage.

It is true that the Champions Trophy is at the bottom of England's wish list this winter, probably so far down that it is almost off the sheet, but their performances here are bound to affect mood, approach and resolve in the other challenges. For instance, a similarly rudimentary exhibition next Saturday against Australia hardly bears contemplation.

They have six days then to improve - and assessing the negatives instead of engaging in an eternal quest for the opposite might be a good way to start. There is plenty to work on. Time and again, England have lost early wickets in the short form of the game this year, lamented the fact and vowed to move on.

Yesterday, having been inserted on a low, slow, fairly contrary pitch, they moved on by losing four quick wickets. There is not often a way back in one-day cricket after that kind of start. The first three wickets were all lbw to the swinging ball, adroitly used by Munaf Patel. It should not be forgotten that India entered this match under severe pressure.

If both Ian Bell (height) and Flintoff (seemingly clipping the outside of leg) might have been given the benefit of doubt, they could have few complaints.

Michael Yardy looked plumb as he shuffled across and played down the wrong line. This was only Yardy's second innings for England and, as a cricketer who has made the most of his ability, he is to be applauded. None the less, it is hard to see him batting at number four for England in, say a World Cup final, when he bats only at five for Sussex in one-day cricket.

When Andrew Strauss inexplicably guided one to slip, the uphill incline grew steeper. On this pitch, there was still the vague hope of a competitive total. For a few overs, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Jamie Dalrymple supplied it. Collingwood especially was characteristically tenacious for 54 balls.

But England's cricket generally lacked intelligence in the prevailing conditions. The need to bat 50 overs was subsumed by the anxiety to keep scoring. Chris Read made it difficult for his well-wishers by choosing to try to hit Harbhajan Singh out of the ground and falling well short. This sort of error compounded the early faults.

India set off at the gallop, aided and abetted by Harmison. For a while, it seemed that they would race to victory. But the mid-innings interval - caused because England had been all out in 37 overs - stopped them in their tracks.

There were two wickets each for Harmison, Dalrymple and, perhaps most notably, for James Anderson. If England insist on positives, they might find them in Anderson. Still, while it was the start of the six-day Hindi festival of Diwali yesterday, there was nothing at all for England to celebrate.

* The New Zealand fast bowler Shane Bond will miss his side's opening Champions Trophy match against South Africa today because of a back problem while the West Indies paceman Corey Collymore will miss Wednesday's match against Australia as he has returned home to be with his wife for the birth of their first child.

Less than magnificent seven: Flintoff's brief return

* Ball 1: Facing Munaf Patel, positive forward defensive on the off side.

* Ball 2: Plays back to shorter ball, misses, sees it bounce to the keeper.

* Ball 3: Defends off the back foot with an open-face bat towards cover point.

* Ball 4: Drops on to the back foot, drives straight to cover.

* Ball 5: Facing Irfan Pathan, plays another assertive forward defensive shot.

* Ball 6: On back foot again as he vigilantly waits for the ball cutting back.

* Ball 7: Moves across stumps to ball pitching on middle and is beaten when it straightens as he plays across his front pad.

Scoreboard from Jaipur

ICC CHAMPIONS TROPHY

FIRST MATCH GROUP A

Jaipur, Ind (One day): India won by four wickets.

England v India

India won toss

England

A J Strauss c Dravid b Pathan 10

I R Bell lbw b M M Patel 4

*A Flintoff lbw b Pathan 0

M H Yardy lbw b M M Patel 4

K P Pietersen c Tendulkar b M M Patel 27

P D Collingwood c Dhoni b Powar 38

J W M Dalrymple c Dravid b Powar 24

ÝC M W Read c Pathan b Harbhajan Singh 2

S I Mahmood c Harbhajan Singh b Powar 8

S J Harmison not out 2

J M Anderson run out 1

Extras (lb2 w2 nb1 pens 0) 5

Total (37 overs) 125

Fall: 1-10 2-11 3-17 4-27 5-55 6-104 7-107 8-119 9-124.

Bowling: Pathan 8-3-20-2; M M Patel 8-2-18- 3; Agarkar 5-0-34-0; Harbhajan Singh 8-0-27-1; Powar 8-1-24-3.

India

V Sehwag c Strauss b Harmison 9

S R Tendulkar lbw b Harmison 35

I K Pathan c Pietersen b Anderson 19

*R Dravid c Strauss b Anderson 4

Yuvraj Singh not out 27

ÝM S Dhoni c Collingwood b Dalrymple 7

S K Raina b Dalrymple 0

Harbhajan Singh not out 6

Extras (lb7 w11 nb1 pens 0) 19

Total (for 6; 29.3 overs) 126

Fall: 1-18 2-68 3-72 4-98 5-119 6-119.

Did not bat: R R Powar, A B Agarkar, M M Patel.

Bowling: Anderson 7-1-40-2; Harmison 6-0- 34-2; Mahmood 8.3-0-30-0; Yardy 4-0-10-0; Dalrymple 4-0-5-2.

Points: India 2, England 0.

Player of the match: M M Patel (India).

Umpires: D J Harper (Aus) and S J A Taufel (Aus).

TV umpire: B F Bowden (NZ).

Match referee: J J Crowe (NZ).

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