Possessing the strength and ability to hit a cricket ball into a stand for six is a huge asset in one-day cricket, yet it only wins games when the player combines the skill with the use of his brain. England's batsmen failed to use their grey matter yesterday and, in the first of seven one-day matches against India, deservedly fell to a 39-run defeat.
Having dismissed India for 203 in 46.1 overs England, who had progressed belligerently to 117 for 3 in the 20th over, should have strolled to victory. But in 11.3 overs of thoughtless and occasionally egotistical batting they lost six wickets for the addition of 25 runs, and threw away the chance to move 1-0 up in the series.
Matthew Prior, Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff and Ian Blackwell are the most destructive batsmen in the England team, but they all forfeited their wicket attempting to sweep the ball for six or four. They will claim that they were only playing their natural game, and that the shot was on.
Rubbish. Prior and Pietersen appeared to be trying to compete with a partner at the other end in the big-hitting stakes, while Flintoff and Blackwell attempted to sweep their way out of tricky situations. Three of the above fell to Harbhajan Singh, who claimed career-best figures of 5 for 31, while Pietersen was caught on the boundary edge off the occasional spin of Yuvraj Singh.
"When Kevin and I were batting we had them by the proverbials and we should have won," Flintoff said. "But we both got out in consecutive overs and that put a lot of pressure on the lower order. One-day cricket is about managing risk and today we did not manage it too well... The defeat has hurt us, and so it should do. We know we have wasted a good opportunity."
While Pietersen and Flintoff were batting together England looked set to pass India's target within 35 overs. Pietersen struck nine boundaries during a 39-ball innings of 46, and Flintoff hit two sixes in his 37-ball 40. After Andrew Strauss and Owais Shah were dismissed by Irfan Pathan in the first over of England's reply, and following Prior's senseless slog to deep square leg, Pietersen and Flintoff regained the initiative by adding 60 runs in eight overs.
There is nothing more entertaining for an England supporter than watching these two bat together, but while in partnership there is the risk that they may get drawn into a shoot-out in which they attempt to out-hit each other. Both players will deny this, stating that the team come first, but on this occasion Flintoff's batting - he had just hit Sri Sreesanth for 16 runs in an over - appeared to affect Pietersen, who had not seen much of the strike for three or four overs.
Pietersen gave Gautam Gambhir the second of three catches when he hoicked a low full toss to deep mid-wicket, and Flintoff was given out lbw when he missed an attempted sweep.
England's method was enjoyed by Harbhajan. "Sweeping gives you the option of getting batsmen lbw or bowled if he doesn't pick the length of the ball," he said. "If the pitch is keeping low, like this one, it is a bit of a risky shot. If I was a batsman I would not play that shot."
Harbhajan bowled very well but credit should also be given to Rahul Dravid for his captaincy. With Pietersen and Flintoff causing havoc Dravid delayed using his "power plays" - two five-over periods when the fielding side has to have nine players fielding within the 30-yard circle - until the partnership was broken. But once the breakthrough had been made he attacked, placing fielders around the bat. England's batsmen were restricted and the pressure grew.
It is only going to get tougher for England. It was a sing-song that brought the tourists victory in the third Test in Bombay - and it was a Singh who brought them down to earth yesterday.
Scoreboard from Delhi
England won toss
G Gambhir c Jones b Kabir Ali 25
42 min, 27 balls, 3 fours, 1 six
V Sehwag c Plunkett b Anderson 7
12 min, 8 balls, 1 four
*R S Dravid b Plunkett 34
78 min, 50 balls, 7 fours
Yuvraj Singh b Kabir Ali 1
6 min, 6 balls
M Kaif run out (Kabir Ali-Jones, TV replay) 4
13 min, 9 balls
S K Raina c Collingwood b Blackwell 24
82 min, 62 balls, 3 fours
I K Pathan c Plunkett b Anderson 28
66 min, 43 balls, 4 fours
ÝM S Dhoni c Collingwood b Plunkett 20
57 min, 28 balls, 2 fours
Harbhajan Singh c Flintoff b Kabir Ali 37
48 min, 46 balls, 3 fours, 1 six
R P Singh not out 2
6 min, 3 balls
S Sreesanth c Pietersen b Kabir Ali 0
2 min, 1 ball
Extras (lb3 w15 nb3) 21
Total (211 min, 46.4 overs) 203
Fall: 1-17 (Sehwag) 2-56 (Gambhir) 3-58 (Yuvraj Singh) 4-68 (Kaif) 5-80 (Dravid) 6-138 (Raina) 7-146 (Pathan) 8-201 (Dhoni), 9-203 (Harbhajan Singh) 10-203 (Sreesanth).
Bowling: Anderson 10-1-41-2 (4-0-24-1, 2-1-1-0, 3-0-8-1, 1-0-8-0); Kabir Ali 8.4-1-45-4 (w3) (6-1-32-2, 1-0-5-0, 1-0-7-0, 0.4-0-1-2), Flintoff 8-0-31-0 (nb3 w1) (5-0-14-0, 3-0-17-0); Plunkett 8-2-42-2 (w3) (6-2-22-1, 2-0-20-1); Collingwood 2-0-17-0 (w6); Blackwell 10-0-24-1 (w2) (one spell each).
Progress: Power Play 1: overs 1-10 56-2; PP2: overs 11-15 69-4; PP3 overs 16-20 80-5. 50 in 40 min, 56 balls. 100 in 109 min, 141 balls. 150 in 165 min, 223 balls. 200 in 203 min, 277 balls.
A J Strauss c Dhoni b Pathan 0
2 min, 3 balls
M J Prior c Gambhir b Harbhajan Singh 22
58 min, 31 balls, 4 fours
O A Shah lbw b Pathan 4
3 min, 3 balls, 1 four
K P Pietersen c Gambhir b Yuvraj Singh 46
88 min, 49 balls, 9 fours
*A Flintoff lbw b Harbhajan Singh 41
38 min, 37 balls, 4 fours, 2 sixes
P D Collingwood c Kaif b Harbhajan Singh 8
43 min, 24 balls, 1 four
ÝG O Jones b Harbhajan Singh 0
8 min, 10 balls
I D Blackwell c Gambhir b Harbhajan Singh (TV replay) 10
24 min, 20 balls, 2 fours
L E Plunkett c Dhoni b Pathan 14
37 min, 31 balls, 2 fours
Kabir Ali lbw b Yuvraj Singh 0
6 min, 6 balls
J M Anderson not out 12
24 min, 17 balls, 2 fours
Extras (lb4 w1 nb2) 7
Total (171 min, 38.1 overs) 164
Fall: 1-0 (Strauss) 2-4 (Shah) 3-57 (Prior) 4-117 (Pietersen) 5-117 (Flintoff) 6-120 (Jones) 7-137 (Blackwell) 8-141 (Collingwood) 9-142 (Kabir Ali) 10-164 (Plunkett).
Bowling: Pathan 7.1-1-21-3 (6-1-19-2, 1.1-0-2-1); Sreesanth 5-0-39-0 (4-0-23-0, 1-0-16-0); R P Singh 4-0-32-0 (1-0-8-0, 3-0-24-0); Harbhajan Singh 10-2-31-5 (4-0-22-1, 6-2-9-4); Yuvraj Singh 10-2-32-2 (nb2); Sehwag 2-0-5-0 (one spell each).
Progress: Power Play 1: overs 1-10, 50-2; PP2 overs 25-30, 124-6 to 141-7. 50: 48 min, 58 balls. 100 in 87 min, 110 balls. 150 in 150 min, 194 balls.
India win by 39 runs
Man of the match: Harbhajan Singh.
Umpires: Asad Rauf and A V Jayaprakash.
TV replay umpire: K Hariharan.
Match referee: R S Mahanama.