England hold nerve to deny thrilling Jadeja
India 234-7 England 218-7 (England win by three wickets (D/L)
So it goes on. England defeated India once more last night to go 2-0 up in a one-day series they now cannot lose. It was narrow, it was rain-affected, it might have gone the other way but as so often before this summer it did not.
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The margin on this occasion – England's seventh victory without reply against these opponents – was three wickets with seven balls to spare. England almost contrived to make a mess of it, but even their messes these days have happy endings as they chased down a reduced target of 218.
India made 234 for 7, which was about twice as many as seemed probable at 58 for 5. It demonstrated that although they might be carrying around a towel, just in case, they are not yet throwing it in.
England took advantage of a green pitch which was entirely suited to their seamers, making hay while the grass grows. The thought occurred as Indian wickets tumbled at the start of the match – decisively as it turned out –that retribution in the return series in India next month could be profound. The tourists then should not expect any surface to offer pace or movement.
At times last night, The Oval felt as though it was Eden Gardens, Kolkata as Indian fans, not remotely discouraged by two months of failure, roared their heroes on. There was none greater than Ravi Jadeja, the man of the match. For two months, India have struggled to adjust to conditions in England and failed. It took Jadeja about two minutes and it averted complete disaster.
His defiant inaugural innings of the tour, the day after stepping off a plane from the subcontinent, ensured that the tourists attained respectability, not familiar territory recently. He followed his 78 from 89 balls with 2 for 42 from nine overs, never allowing his opponents to be at ease against his left-arm spin. Maybe a fresh face unencumbered by the baggage of two losing months is what India needed.
Four previous matches under lights at The Oval had been won by the side batting first, which might have made Alastair Cook's decision to bowl seem bold. The colour of the surface on which the coin landed was a pretty persuasive factor and for the seventh time of the nine occasions he has won the toss he put in the opposition.
It took four balls to suggest that he might be right and Jimmy Anderson, lethal in these circumstances, scythed through the top order. India were hapless against the seaming ball and their apprehension meant that when it did not move they were still in trouble.
If they were not beaten, they hung out their bats or flailed desperately. Both Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina, in whom resides the future of India's middle order, were culpable. The saddest dismissal was that of Rahul Dravid, run out, though it would be wrong to report that it was while attempting a quick single.
It would have been had Dravid started off with more urgency, avoided glancing back at the fielder, Anderson, and dived for the line as the throw came in. It was one-day batting from a bygone age.
Jadeja composed an innings of diligent maturity, sharing a partnership of 112 with his captain MS Dhoni, who never rose above circumspect. It was a record for the sixth wicket in an ODI at The Oval, a small record perhaps but the minimum required in the circumstances.
England set off at the gallop but the innings stalled with the advent of spin into the attack, odd when it was seam that had done the damage earlier. After Cook and Craig Kieswetter gave them a racing start nobody settled. The rain delay altered their target after which Ian Bell was daftly run out, proposing a single that was never on and turning back too late.
Ben Stokes, at 20, was exposed to international pressure for the first time. He looked edgy but he also hit a highly confident six over long on. Ravi Bopara and Tim Bresnan appeared as though they would see England home but provided India with belated hope by getting out. It was as if, in the end, they were just kidding.
*Whatever England's grip on India at present, their plans for the one-day tour of the country were severely disturbed last night. Eoin Morgan will need surgery on a right shoulder injury which will prevent him playing for 12 weeks. It means that any suggestion of overlooking Kevin Pietersen for the trip to India next month, where England play five one-day internationals, can be forgotten unless the selectors are prepared to take a risk they will regret. Pietersen's improvised hitting in the middle order will be as needed as ever.
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