Finn's hat-trick helps England make winning start

 

Rajiv Gandhi Stadium

Without reaching top gear – which is not to say they failed to break sweat – England won the opening match of their short Indian tour yesterday. It was a bland victory, though in the country of the Champions League Twenty20 tournament, all show and no class, that is a bonus of grand proportions.

It took England the best part of a decade to recognise the importance of warm-up matches. Under Andy Flower they have taken them to a new, more intense level on the logical grounds that if you do the practice well you might have a better chance when it comes to the real thing.

The yardstick for this was the preparation for last winter's Ashes. England played their intended Test XI in all three preliminary matches, won the lot, were sleek as teak when the Ashes began and prevailed magnificently.

Their victory by 56 runs yesterday against a Hyderabad Cricket Association XI, which was not as makeshift as had been suggested, was not in that category. Yet it all ended happily enough with a hat-trick for Steve Finn which ended their opponents' innings in the 37th over, but it needed the bowlers to ensure their game was raised.

The tourists' batting overall was of the sort that implied it would be all right when the series proper began. Thus they needed to be bailed out by the late middle order, in which Ravi Bopara and Chris Woakes were prominently well-appointed. Both assessed the condition of the surface and the match and played accordingly, which is not a straightforward thing to do.

Bopara played with his recently discovered authority and there is reason at last to suppose that he may yet have a durable one-day career for England. He has taken his time to reach this stage since he has already played 64 ODIs, but suddenly looks as though he belongs.

His innings of 73, begun when England were 30 for 3, took only 82 balls yet contained only three fours and a six. For the rest, it was sharp placement and determined running.

Woakes, coming in at 124 for 6, saw the innings through with calm maturity, and if 219 all out was short of what they should have made, the pitch was contrary enough to give them the conviction that it was enough. So it proved, with Finn working up a head of steam at the start, made more of a handful by some uneven bounce, and Woakes striking twice in the middle of the innings as the HCA were beginning to settle to their task.

It was a typically solid exhibition from Woakes, who is only 22 but is a thoughtful cricketer of the type admired by this England management. What the total meant in effect was that England could not afford many errors in the field, and there were none. Two run-outs testified to their zeal.

It was the first time for the team under the new regulations for one-day international cricket, with a new ball used at each end at the start lasting the entire innings. The bowlers were clearly happier with this arrangement than the previous enforced change after 34 overs.

England have one more warm-up match, on Tuesday. They should enter the series next Friday in good heart, with reason to believe they can beat India on their own soil for the first time since 1985. It will not be easy, but if the batsmen really can peak at the right time it will be intriguingly close.

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