England left reeling by Yuvraj onslaught

India 387-5, England 229
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The Independent Online

Kevin Pietersen had insisted that his team and their supporters should not fret about England's recent displays against the Stanford Superstars in Antigua and a Mumbai second XI here in India, even though England were bowled out for 99 and 98 respectively.

According to him, these were temporary blips, performances that would not be repeated once the serious cricket started and his players switched on their big-match temperament. Well, the serious stuff started here yesterday morning and it made little difference to the quality of England's performance. To say that England were totally outplayed by India in the first of seven one-dayers would be a grave understatement: Pietersen's side were pulverised, conceding a whopping 387, more than any of the previous 498 teams selected to play one-day cricket for England.

In reply to India's huge score, a total dominated by an often brutal, occasionally beautiful but always brilliant unbeaten 138 from Yuvraj Singh, England were dismissed for 229. The 158-run defeat was the fourth-heaviest England have suffered.

The manner in which the match unfolded was in stark contrast to when Pietersen captained England against South Africa at the end of the summer. Then he could do no wrong. Every decision he made came off whether it be selectorial or tactical.

Yesterday, no matter how hard he tried, nothing went right for him. Pietersen's logic was right when he won the toss but the ball swung for one over. In August the ball went to wherever he moved a fielder; yesterday it went where he had moved him from. On the couple of occasions he tried to be cute it backfired too. Bringing Paul Collingwood on immediately after the drinks break was not a ridiculous move, but the over conceded 19 runs and India were away again.

In the long run Pietersen should benefit from the experience. If his honeymoon as captain did not end in Antigua a fortnight ago it has now, but the adventure will have given him a better idea of what the job truly entails. "It was difficult and it is always hard to take a loss," Pietersen admitted. "I hate losing but when Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag play like that you are always going to be behind the game. There are improvements we can make. I am not excited by the fact we were 40 for 4 on that pitch.

"I am a little concerned that we have lost the momentum we had at the end of the summer, but I know you are not going to win every game as captain. It is how you bounce back that counts. We are 1-0 down but there are six more games and we will have to show mental strength to come back and hit India hard at Indore on Monday."

Whether his bowlers will have recovered from their public flogging by then is another matter. With the exception of Andrew Flintoff, whose initial eight overs cost only 34 runs, England's attack was laboured. On an unresponsive pitch with short boundaries Samit Patel was always going to struggle but James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Stephen Harmison all looked short of match practice.

Flintoff showed that Indian batsmen can be contained if the bowling is accurate and aggressive but Harmison, who bowls in a similar manner to his best mate, does not possess the same control. Anderson and Broad pitched the ball up looking for swing, but when it did not deviate off the straight they had nowhere to go.

A sure sign of not being primed was the inability to bowl yorkers. England's bowlers tried to hit the length but most ended up being full tosses or length balls, which Yuvraj dispatched with ease. Even Flintoff disappeared, conceding 33 in his final two overs. In all the final 10 overs cost 124 runs.

Poorly as England bowled, huge credit must be given to Yuvraj because his was a very special performance. The enigmatic left-hander struck the ball beautifully, smiting 16 boundaries and six sixes in his 78-ball innings. That Yuvraj is not considered good enough for India's Test side highlights the quality of cricketer the country now possesses.

Much will be made of Yuvraj's back injury and his use of a runner for the majority of his innings. The ailment did not appear to affect his strokeplay and there were many quizzical looks as he lithely sent the ball flying to and over the boundary. Some will feel it was a calculated decision so that he remained fresh. It is hard to believe. A runner normally causes huge mix-ups that often result in a run-out, and Yuvraj would not have wanted to be dismissed through no fault of his own.

He will grab the headlines but it was the excellent opening partnership of 127 between Gambhir and Sehwag that allowed him the freedom to play as he did. Suresh Raina highlighted his potential too before Mahendra Singh Dhoni added the finishing touches with Yuvraj.

England's reply got off to an awful start with Matt Prior and Owais Shah falling in the opening five overs; Ian Bell and Flintoff soon followed. Pietersen passed 50 but a record defeat loomed when he was run out. Lusty, carefree batting from the lower order helped England avoid total humiliation but that could follow in the coming week if Pietersen's troops continue not to "switch their heads on".

India's run glut: Rajkot landmarks

*Yuvraj Singh's first hundred runs came up in 64 balls – the ninth-fastest ODI century and the fastest against England.

*India's 387 for 5 is their highest ODI score at home and their second-highest anywhere. The highest was against Bermuda in the 2007 World Cup.

*India's total beats Pakistan's 353 in Karachi in 2005 as the highest ODI total conceded by England.

*It was England's second-heaviest ODI defeat in terms of runs.

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