All-round, yesterday was disappointing for England. Firstly there was the result, a 38-run Duckworth/Lewis defeat to India in the rain-affected fifth match of the NatWest Series. Then there was the news that Andrew Flintoff, England's premier all-rounder, is struggling with what appears to be a recurrence of the ankle problem that has hampered him now for more than two and a half years.
If that was not enough, Ravi Bopara, Flintoff's possible heir apparent, left the field with a thumb injury that could yet prevent him from playing in this month's Twenty20 World Championships in South Africa. Bravely, Bopara returned to bat in England's quest to score the 311 runs (D/L) but the dislocation and fracture he sustained was plainly troubling him. The fitness of Bopara and Flintoff will be assessed tomorrow, but with England departing for South Africa on Sunday, they will need to show improvement quickly.
To finish matters off Stuart Broad, England's star performer at Old Trafford on Thursday with 4 for 51 and an unbeaten 45, was smashed all around Headingley, conceding 84 runs in 10 very expensive overs.
The only bright point of a cold, wet and windy day was Paul Collingwood's defiant unbeaten 91. The England captain hit four huge sixes in his 71-ball innings but received little support from his middle and lower order. Matthew Prior and Ian Bell had given England hope of an unlikely victory with a quickfire second-wicket partnership of 90 but they both fell to the man of the match, Sourav Ganguly. Zaheer Khan dismissed Kevin Pietersen, too, in a 13-ball spell that confirmed India's superiority.
Collingwood tried his damnedest to pull off another turnaround but the defeat leaves the seven-match series wonderfully placed, with England leading 3-2 and two games in London remaining. England's wickets were shared among the Indian bowlers and Mahendra Singh Dhoni became the sixth wicketkeeper and first Indian to claim six dismissals in a one-day innings.
England have not ruled out Flintoff playing on Wednesday but the apparent relapse is a real concern for him and England. Flintoff was upbeat and happy before Thursday's match at Old Trafford, believing that the third operation on his left ankle had cured the problem, but his mood was described as "distraught" when he arrived in Leeds on Friday.
The 28-year-old was sent for a scan on Saturday, the results of which are yet to be made public, and spent yesterday at his home in Cheshire rather than on the England balcony here. The setback throws Flintoff's involvement in this winter's tours in to doubt – and his future as a Test cricketer. By gritting his teeth and taking medication he may be able to get through one-day games, but there must now be real doubts that his ankle can cope with the demands of Test cricket, which would involve him bowling 15-20 overs a day.
Flintoff's injury is not a reason for England's defeat, but the sight of a popular figure looking so dejected can only have had a detrimental effect on the mood of Collingwood's side.
India's total was built around excellent half-centuries from their top four batsmen. Sachin Tendulkar led the way with 71 and Yuvraj Singh, with a belligerent 72, ensured that an opening partnership of 116 was not wasted. Sourav Ganguly struck two sixes in his 59, but it was Tendulkar who took command after a watchful start.
Jon Lewis, replacing Flintoff, was first to suffer. Tendulkar cut and drove the medium pacer for four boundaries in his third over, prompting people to question why Collingwood opened up with Lewis ahead of Broad when he appeared to be forging a promising partnership with James Anderson.
Lewis, who conceded 29 runs in four overs, was replaced by Broad, who yielded 30 in a spell of the same length. Tendulkar was in thumping form. Matthew Prior dropped a chance standing up to Collingwood when the "Little Master" was on 33 and it had no effect on the way he batted. Tendulkar passed 50 for the 123rd time in one-dayers and he looked set to go on to a 42nd hundred when he edged Lewis through to the keeper.
With Tendulkar gone Ganguly became the aggressor, passing 50 for the 71st time in his 300th one-day appearance. A wind-assisted heave at Lewis deposited the ball over the midwicket boundary yet it was a similar strike, against Monty Panesar and into the wind, which led to his downfall. Alastair Cook took the catch a yard in front of the boundary, to the delight of Panesar.
The wicket checked India briefly and Panesar was unfortunate not to dismiss Yuvraj when he edged a catch through to Prior on 10. Television replays showed that it was a thick edge but umpire Nigel Llong missed it. Yuvraj capitalised, smashing Collingwood through extra cover for four to post his 5,000th one-day run. The left-hander then turned his attention to Panesar, who he twice cut for four.
Gautam Gambhir played a supporting role, giving his destructive partner as much of the strike as he could. Bopara was brought in to the attack but injured his hand when Gambhir hit a low catch back at him. With blood dripping from his thumb he left the field, Pietersen finishing the over.
Yuvraj and Gambhir fell in close succession but India, with wickets in hand, were able to go after the bowling, an approach that allowed them to score 98 runs in the final 10 overs.Reuse content