Three was the tragic number in Kochi as England collapsed to a 127-run defeat against India that levels the five-match series at 1-1. Three times batsmen fell to the swing of Bhuvneshwar Kumar; three were undone by the offspin of Ravichandran Ashwin; and the hosts final three overs cost 35 runs as the bowlers allowed three batsman to make half centuries down the order.
The day began with much to cheer as first Jade Dernbach and then, far more impressively, Steven Finn made the most of early movement off the pitch. Dernbach produced the fast bowler’s old fashioned one-two to get rid of Gautam Gambhir. Finn had fellow opener Ajinkya Rahane fearful of coming forward. Fortune favours the brave but shuns the timid as Rahane found out for the cost of his stumps.
When James Tredwell, Chris Woakes - in for the injured Tim Bresnan - and Finn again struck, India were 174 for five and staring down the double-barrel of a 2-0 deficit with just 10 overs remaining. Cue MS Dhoni. “He’s probably the best player in the world in those situations,” Cook declared and so it proved.
In a captain’s innings of rare maturity, Dhoni bided his time with guides and glances before unleashing the bludgeon for the final overs. His partnership with Ravindra Jadeja put on 96 runs from 10 overs to carry India to 285 for six. Given the form of England’s top six, it was a total not beyond their reach.
However, Ian Bell’s careless drive off Kumar on one got the reply off to the worst possible start. Remove the ball from the picture and the stroke looked text book; back in, it ends up in Dhoni’s gloves. By the 10-over mark, England were 58 for one and Kevin Pietersen had contributed 34 to a half-century partnership with his captain. All looked rosy in the English garden but then Kumar got out the secateurs and chopped down Cook lbw for 17.
Joe Root sauntered in with a swagger not seen in these parts since Dirty Harry showed at the Savitha Picture House on nearby Banerjee Road. Four overs later, the only man swaggering was Kumar as Pietersen undid the responsible work that had taken him to 42. A misguided shot missed completely and the stumps were down.
If that wicket sent the crowd raucous, two balls later they were in nirvana. Kumar caught Eoin Morgan’s edge with away swing and Dhoni claimed an impressive catch. The 22-year-old had dismissed England’s two most dangerous batsmen in the space of four balls to end the match as a contest.
Cook spoke of the “invisible pressure from the crowd” that makes you “think you’re under more pressure than you actually are.” That pressure became visible as England lost their last five wickets for just 26 runs in 34 balls but the real damage was inflicted by Kumar higher up the order. He bowled out his allocation to finish with figures of three for 29. Cometh the hour, Kumar the man.