This was the tale of two captains. Nasser Hussain and Sourav Ganguly have plenty in common. Ganguly has been short of runs in England, Hussain is under fire for continuing to bat at No 3 in the one-day side. Both are good captains, but with a dismissive arrogance, a quality which may serve well enough when things are going well, but when you are on the receiving end it can be counter-productive.
The sides had won a qualifying match each with one spoiled by rain. Now, Hussain must have thought the day was his. He won the toss, saw England score 325 for 5 and registered his first one-day international hundred – which he celebrated with a petulant and childish gesture to the press box that will reawaken his critics. In truth, it was not his best innings and although it may have wrapped him in a warm cocoon of personal satisfaction, it did little to prove his value as a No 3.
While England's batsmen were piling on the pressure, Ganguly, outwardly calm, did his best to marshal his troops. But India's bowlers were decidedly brittle and even Ganguly went for 28 from his first three overs. When those two redoubtable spinners, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble, came on, they found that their job was containment rather than aggression. They were lesser bowlers because of it.
At the halfway stage, Ganguly strode into the pavilion hardly able to wait to have a go at the England bowlers. He pranced out with Virender Sehwag and in no time at all the ball was racing here, there and everywhere to the fence and runs were coming at seven an over. It was unbelievable strokeplay. Ganguly led the way, cutting, slashing, driving and pulling when he had the chance. It was as if a tidal wave was racing through the Bay of Bengal and the England bowlers were so many shipwrecks. Now it was Hussain's turn to meditate in the covers or at short fine-leg and a fat lot of good it did him. Then, when the two openers had put on 106 in 15 overs, Ganguly strode on to the tightrope once too often, had a wild slog at Alex Tudor and was bowled. Eight overs later, four more wickets had fallen and it was 146 for 5 in the 24th over. Hussain must have felt that England's disciplined cricket and excellent fielding had wrapped it up. But it is dangerous to count your chickens.
Sachin Tendulkar's undignified dismissal, to a short one from Ashley Giles when he made room to cut, brought in Mohammad Kaif, a relative novice, to join Yuvraj Singh. Yuvraj has tormented England in this series. He is a wonderfully talented left-hander who looks like a cross between Gary Sobers and Graeme Pollock with a dash of Frank Woolley thrown in.
He now treated a deafeningly buoyant and exhilarated crowd to an extraordinary exhibition of strokeplay. He cut and drove with withering power and orthodox certainty; he swivelled and pulled as if he was a ballet dancer who was playing with the audience and the fielders. The footwork was electric. Ball after ball screamed to the boundary and England had no answer. Kaif too was in mid-season form.
Hussain was as controlled as Ganguly had been earlier, and as powerless. He changed his bowlers, altered his field and then Paul Collingwood snaffled Yuvraj. Harbhajan and Kumble perished, and the stage was set for the perfect finish. By kind permission of the rope trick, India did it with three balls and two wickets left. It doesn't get much better than this.