With Sachin Tendulkar's best days seemingly behind him, Indian cricket is in the process of trying to unearth a new "little master" and, yesterday, in the diminutive form of Suresh Raina, they may well have found their man. Experience, or a lack of it, is an excuse often trotted out by the England management when they lose, but Andrew Flintoff's side were defeated in the second one-dayer against India by a 19-year-old who showed remarkable maturity during an unbeaten innings of 81.
Raina arrived at the crease after India's four senior batsmen had got themselves out through irresponsible pieces of cricket. Virender Sehwag was bowled behind his legs sweeping, Rahul Dravid was comically run out, Mohammad Kaif had a reckless heave at a good-length ball from Liam Plunkett, and Yuvraj Singh foolishly attempted to cut the left-arm spin of Ian Blackwell on a pitch that was offering excessive turn.
In 11.3 overs, India had collapsed from 61 for 0 to 92 for 5, and England's workmanlike total of 226 was looking like a match-winning score. But Raina and the normally big hitting Mahendra Singh Dhoni showed skill and care during a crucial partnership of 118.
Irfan Pathan finished the game off when he hoisted James Anderson over midwicket for four in the penultimate over of the match but it was Raina's cool head and classy batting that earned India a four-wicket victory and a 2-0 lead in the seven-match series.
"At the halfway stage we were reasonably happy," said Andrew Flintoff, England's stand-in captain. "We thought 226 was a competitive score, and when we had them at 90-odd for five we were right in the game and in with a good chance of winning. But Raina played a fantastic knock. It was a special innings. It was the difference between the two sides on the day and it saw India home."
The batting of Raina, and his partnership with Dhoni, ultimately won the game for India, but their task was made easier by poor new-ball bowling from Anderson and Kabir Ali. On Tuesday in Delhi, England's batsmen were responsible for the 39-run defeat but here the opening bowlers were the most culpable.
Scoring runs on a low, slow, turning pitch was hard work throughout the day. Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss were the first to experience this against a team that employed five spin bowlers. Pietersen and Strauss batted superbly, showing restraint and finesse as they moved their side towards a decent score.
But the efforts of the pair were largely wasted in the first six overs of India's reply. There is no disgrace in conceding six and a half runs an over at the start of a one-day game on a true pitch, but India were allowed to race to 39 for 0 without having to raise a bat in anger.
Anderson and Kabir were guilty of bowling too many four balls on a pitch that rewarded those who aimed straight, and how England must have wished that they, too, had played an extra spinner in the form of Gareth Batty. Flintoff, Blackwell and Liam Plunkett made amends for the poor start with excellent opening spells, but the early scoring spree meant that India were never behind the run rate.
Even so, the result of the match might have been different if Anderson had managed to hold a difficult caught and bowled chance when Raina was on 18. Anderson dived to his right and caught the ball in his right hand, but the force of his elbow hitting the ground dislodged it from his grasp.
Raina rarely looked trouble after the dropped catch. He worked the ball skilfully into the gaps, had the nous to get the ball replaced when the old one became soft, and hit boundaries whenever they were needed. Plunkett was pulled for four, Blackwell was struck over long-on for six and Kabir was hit for 15 in the 35th over. It left India requiring 19 runs from the final five overs, a target they reached despite the loss of Dhoni for 38.
Pietersen and the much-maligned sweep shot have received a fair amount of criticism since the defeat in Delhi, but both proved productive for England here. Pietersen, possibly chastened by some of the things said, played his most responsible innings for England but it still only took him 96 balls to score 71.
It took him 64 balls to find the boundary for the first time and his half-century contained only three fours. But with his eye in and wickets in hand, Pietersen opened his shoulders and hit two huge sixes. The second of these took him past 1,000 one-day runs in only his 21st innings.
The magnitude of the feat becomes apparent when one learns that Viv Richards - the fastest player to 1,000 one-day runs - reached this milestone in exactly the same number of innings.
But with England now looking set for a score of more than 240, Pietersen chipped a simple catch to midwicket. With their danger man gone, runs once again became hard to accumulate and England only managed to add 33 in the final seven overs of their innings.
Scoreboard from Faridabad
England won toss
A J Strauss b Powar 61
137 min, 85 balls, 6 fours
M J Prior lbw b Harbhajan Singh 33
71 min, 49 balls, 5 fours
O A Shah c Dhoni b Powar 0
6 min, 5 balls
K P Pietersen c Dravid b Yuvraj Singh 71
108 min, 87 balls, 4 fours, 2 sixes
*A Flintoff st Dhoni b Powar 5
14 min, 14 balls
P D Collingwood run out (Dhoni) 5
23 min, 13 balls
ÝG O Jones c Gambhir b Sreesanth 22
38 min, 29 balls, 1 four
I D Blackwell b Sreesanth 9
18 min, 12 balls
L E Plunkett b Pathan 4
6 min, 6 balls
Kabir Ali not out 1
4 min, 1 ball
J M Anderson b Sreesanth 2
2 min, 2 balls
Extras (b4 lb3 w2 nb4) 13
Total (218 min, 49.5 overs) 226
Fall: 1-66 (Prior) 2-71 (Shah) 3-135 (Strauss) 4-143 (Flintoff) 5-174 (Collingwood) 6-193 (Pietersen) 7-214 (Blackwell) 8-221 (Plunkett) 9-223 (Jones) 10-226 (Anderson).
Bowling: Pathan 8-2-29-1 (6-2-18-0 2-0-11-1); Sreesanth 6.5-0-40-3 (nb1 w1) (5-0-31-0 1.5-0-9-3); Harbhajan Singh 10-1-43-1 (6-1-22-1 4-0-21-0); Powar 10-0-34-3 (nb1) (7-0-26-1 3-0-8-2); Sehwag 4-0-21-0 (nb1); Yuvraj Singh 10-0-39-1; Gambhir 1-0-13-0 (nb1 w1) (one spell each).
Progress: Power Play 1: overs 1-10 44-0; PP2: overs 11-15 66-0; PP3: overs 16-20 88-2. 50 in 53 min, 69 balls. 100 in 104 min, 144 balls. 150 in 160 min, 224 balls. 200 in 198 min, 276 balls.
Strauss 50: 111 min, 72 balls, 6 fours. Pietersen 50: 86 min, 73 balls, 3 fours.
V Sehwag b Blackwell 26
62 min, 45 balls, 4 fours
G Gambhir c and b Anderson 29
80 min, 45 balls, 4 fours
*R S Dravid run out
(Jones-Collingwood TV replay) 5
32 min, 23 balls
Yuvraj Singh b Blackwell 18
39 min, 20 balls, 4 fours
M Kaif lbw b Plunkett 0
7 min, 6 balls
S K Raina not out 81
132 min, 89 balls, 8 fours, 1 six
ÝM S Dhoni b Flintoff 38
100 min, 55 balls, 2 fours
I K Pathan not out 12
14 min, 11 balls, 1 four
Extras (b 0, lb 4, w 16, nb 1, pens 0) 21
Total (6 wkts, 236 min, 49 overs) 230
Fall: 1-61 (Sehwag) 2-70 (Gambhir) 3-72 (Dravid) 4-80 (Kaif) 5-92 (Yuvraj Singh) 6-210 (Dhoni).
Did not bat: Harbhajan Singh, R R Powar, S Sreesanth.
Bowling: Anderson 10-0-60-1 (w5) (3-0-20-0 3-0-12-1 2-0-11-0 2-0-17-0), Kabir Ali 7-0-50-0 (w7) (5-0-26-0 1-0-9-0 1-0-15-0), Flintoff 10-1-29-1 (w3) (5-0-12-0 2-1-5-0 1-0-7-0 2-0-5-1), Blackwell 9-0-39-2 (2-0-4-1 5-0-18-1 2-0-17-0), Plunkett 9-3-29-1 (w1) (6-3-14-1 3-0-15-0), Collingwood 4-0-19-0 (nb1) (3-0-12-0 1-0-7-0).
Progress: Power Play 1: overs 1-10 53-0; PP2 overs 15-19 62-1 to 72-2; PP3 overs 20-24 72-2 to 92-4. 50 in 42 min, 57 balls. 100 in 128 min, 155 balls. 150 in 176 min, 222 balls. 200 in 214 min, 266 balls.
Raina 50: 100 min, 69 balls, 5 fours.
India win by 4 wickets
Umpires: Asad Rauf (Pak) and A V Jayaprakash (India).
TV replay umpire: I Shivram (India).
Match referee: R S Madugalle (Sri Lanka).
Man of the match: S K Raina.Reuse content