India hand out another lesson to England

Learning goes on as World Cup looms - now Fletcher knows how weak are supporting cast

India reaffirmed their one-day superiority over England yesterday with a thumping seven-wicket victory against Andrew Strauss's side in the final match of the tourists' nine-week tour. The win gave India a 5-1 series win, a result which gives a true reflection of the gulf in class between the teams.

Half-centuries from Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Geraint Jones allowed England to post 288, their highest total of the seven-match series, but the bowlers rarely troubled the hosts as they cruised home with five balls to spare.

Rahul Dravid and Robin Uthappa, making his international debut, put England's total in perspective on an excellent pitch by compiling 166 for the first wicket. The pair fell in consecutive overs, giving England a glimmer of hope, but Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina ensured victory with a 115-run stand.

England will cite the absence of five leading players, and the option to rest Andrew Flintoff for the final three matches, as the principal reason for the result. They have a point, yet it would be unwise for them to write the series off.

If England have learnt anything over the past three weeks it is that their bench players will not win them the World Cup. Results here confirmed the fact that England will need to field their strongest possible side if they are to have any hope of success in the Caribbean in 12 months' time.

Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, already knew what Pietersen, Strauss and Collingwood, who have carried the batting, were capable of, but Matthew Prior, Vikram Solanki and Owais Shah have done little to push their case for inclusion.

Prior's potential as a batsman-keeper may maintain the interest of the selectors and keep him in future one-day squads, but England cannot afford to continue picking two glovemen. While the series was alive there was talk of Prior easing Jones out of the team, but scores of 22, 32, 49 and 53 in Jones's final four innings have ended any chance of this taking place.

The performance of the bowlers offers greater optimism. James Anderson confirmed his return to form in the Bombay Test and was the pick of the seamers in the one-dayers. He has benefited from bowling regularly in match situations and it is to be hoped the selectors allow him to play for Lancashire and not keep him as 12th man at the Test matches.

Liam Plunkett continues to make progress and Sajid Mahmood highlighted his potential with hostile opening spells in the final two games. Ian Blackwell does not look a Test player, but he proved that there will be life after Ashley Giles in one-day cricket.

Harbhajan Singh, with 12 victims, was the top wicket-taker in the series but Blackwell's left-armers proved to be the most economic. He is not a huge spinner of a ball but he has perfected bowling over the wicket at right-handers, conceding fewer than four runs an over. He has been guilty of showing a lack of nous with the bat but he bowled with craft and intelligence.

The same could not be said of Kabir Ali, who conceded more than six runs an over. Gareth Batty ought to have played in more than one game yet he failed to impress in Cochin. Both will sweat over their places for the next squad in June.

Much has been made of England's tendency to place a greater emphasis on Tests than one-dayers, and it is difficult to see the bias changing. It has been suggested that one-day series should be played before Tests, but English broadcast- ers and the overseas boards want it to remain as it is.

In England the scheduling will not affect attendances, where spectators still flock to Test matches, and Sky enjoy covering one-day cricket during football's summer break. At most overseas destinations it is different. Test grounds are rarely full, and in an attempt to finish tours off on a high, the limited-over games are played at the end.

England will feel they might have pushed India close if they had a full squad, but they are what they are:ranked seventh in the world. In football the position would not appear disastrous, but in cricket there are only eight decent teams.

INDORE SCOREBOARD

India won toss

England

*A J Strauss c Khartik b Sreesanth 25 (Edged attempted drive to keeper; 42 min, 34 balls, 5 fours)

I R Bell run out (Yuvraj Singh) 32 (Sent back at non-striker's end; 92 min, 45 balls, 4 fours)

M J Prior c Pathan b Sreesanth 2 (Top-edged attempted pull to long-leg; 11 min, 11 balls)

K P Pietersen c Uthappa b Yuvraj Singh 64 (Slog-sweep to deep mid-wicket; 83 min, 56 balls, 11 fours, 1 six)

P D Collingwood c R P Singh b Pathan 64 (Lofted drive to deep mid-on; 117 min, 84 balls, 2 fours, 2 sixes)

ÝG O Jones c Karthik b Sreesanth 53 (Brilliant diving catch by keeper; 62 min, 50 balls, 7 fours, 1 six)

I D Blackwell c Raina b Sreesanth 11 (Chipped slower ball to long-on; 13 min, 10 balls, 2 fours)

L E Plunkett c V R V Singh b Sreesanth 6 (Lofted drive to long-on; 17 min, 9 balls)

Kabir Ali c Venugopal Rao b Pathan 1 (Lofted drive to long-off; 6 min, 4 balls)

S I Mahmood c V R V Singh b Sreesanth 9 (Short-arm pull to mid-on; 5 min, 4 balls, 1 six)

J M Anderson not out 0 (1 min, 0 balls)

Extras (lb4 w8 nb9) 21

Total (all out; 229 min, 50 overs) 288

Fall: 1-43 (Strauss), 2-47 (Prior), 3-110 (Bell), 4-165 (Pietersen), 5-257 (Jones), 6-267 (Collingwood), 7-274 (Blackwell), 8-277 (Kabir Ali), 9-288 (Plunkett), 10-288 (Mahmood).

Bowling: Pathan 10-1-44-2, Sreesanth 10-1-55-6, R P Singh 7-0-44-0, V R V Singh 7-0-73-0, Powar 9-1-38-0, Yuvraj Singh 7-0-30-1.

India

A R Uthappa run out (Anderson-Jones/TV replay) 86 (Failed to ground bat jogging second; 123 min, 96 balls, 12 fours, 1 six)

*R Dravid lbw Mahmood 69 (Played across full-length swinging ball; 128 min, 79 balls, 9 fours)

Yuvraj Singh not out 63 (92 min, 57 balls, 6 fours)

S K Raina b Kabir Ali 53 (Missed huge swing across line; 83 min, 65 balls, 2 fours, 1 six)

Irfan Pathan not out 1 (3 min, 1 balls)

Extras (lb5 w8 nb4) 17

Total (for 3 wkts; 216 min, 49.1 overs) 289

Fall: 1-166 (Uthappa), 2-166 (Dravid), 3-281 (Raina).

Did not bat: Y Venugopal Rao, ÝK K D Karthik, R R Powar, R P Singh, V R V Singh, S Sreesanth.

Bowling: Anderson 8.1-0-67-0, Mahmood 10-0-61-1, Plunkett 10-0-40-0, Kabir Ali 8-0-47-1, Blackwell 10-0-51-0, Collingwood 3-0-18-0.

Umpires: A V Jayaprakash (India) and R E Koertzen (SA).

India win by 7 wickets to take series 5-1.

Man of the match: S Sreesanth. Man of the series: Yuvraj Singh.

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