England given reminder life in India is far from easy
India 300-7 England 174 (India win by 126 runs)
If there was any tiny doubt about how difficult it is to win in India it might just have been erased here in Hyderabad yesterday. If there existed any remote suspicion that England were about to sweep all before them, that, too, was disdainfully removed.
It was instead a reprise of the old story, or at least of the story as it goes back almost a decade. India defeated England by 126 runs in the first of five matches in the one-day series. Of the last 14 matches between the sides in this country, England have won one.
So severe and unexpected was this reversal that the tourists will do well to regroup for the second match in Delhi on Monday. This was not, hardly surprisingly, the view of England's captain, Alastair Cook.
"We were outplayed in all three departments," he said. "We gave them 30 or 40 runs too many but the good things about the games coming close together as they do is that we can react quickly. We're disappointed but it's about the character we show next and we're still a close unit."
Although England were not suckered into thinking that India were about to roll over and have their tummies tickled after their experiences abroad in the summer, Cook had pronounced that his men were ready for the challenge.
The margin of defeat, England's second largest to India, would suggest that they were as ill-equipped and unready as Butch and Sundance dashing out to meet the Bolivian army. All seemed to be going well for England, despite some dozy work in the outfield, as India stuttered their way to 150 for 4 after 35 overs.
Afterwards it could not have gone worse. In the last 15 overs, India exactly doubled their score and 300 on a slow pitch was not a realistic target. The match hinged almost entirely on a commanding innings from India's captain, MS Dhoni.
It was vital for his side's well-being that he scored runs yesterday. There had been disappointments of late and they had won none of their 10 international assignments in England. Dhoni, in at 123 for 4 with the chips down, was so unruffled that he might as well have conducted proceedings wearing a dinner jacket.
His placement was precise, he ran his singles thunderously which was matched by the ferocity of his boundaries. Eschewing all pretence, as ever, at replicating an orthodox method, he drilled his boundaries, all 11 of them, 10 fours and a six, in his unbeaten 87 from 70 balls.
The speed of the bat helps but it is the strength of his wrists which makes his strokes what they are. England did not seem to do much wrong in the latter stages of India's innings, although nor did they do as much right as they had in the earlier ones.
Having picked up the pace in the batting powerplay which they took at the last legitimate moment, India then continued their acceleration. This provided evidence that the requirement to take the batting powerplay by the 36th over – when only three players can be outside the fielding circle – means that if it goes well the momentum may well continue.
England bowled too many wides, 14, all of their pace trio being guilty, which suggest that their practice has not gone as well as they say. But Dhoni dares you to bowl wide of him because he can whip anything in his arc on the leg side or crash it on the off. This was his fourth successive ODI fifty and the last three all scored at more than a run a ball.
For a while it looked as if Cook would reply in kind. The doubters must by now be spread to all parts, though Cook is not yet quite hitting the ball in that many directions. Still, he looked in control as he went along at a run a ball to his fifty. Unfortunately, he lost Craig Kieswetter, edging to the keeper, and Kevin Pietersen, running an extremely risky single.
When Cook and Jonathan Trott were dismissed in quick fashion, that was that. England simply folded to the point of embarrassment. They had it all their own way on home turf. Surprising though it was, it was just possible to discern the boot being transferred to the other foot.
* Sky Sports' commentators were unable to provide coverage of the ODI due to a blackout caused by a breakdown in talks between rights-holding production company Nimbus and the BCCI.
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