England surrendered the series in a match of what-might-have-beens as India won by five wickets at the Mohali stadium. The hosts now have an unassailable 3-1 lead in the five-match series and England have only themselves to blame, although Steven Finn's disruptive knee will deflect some of that blame.
On a pitch that gave more assistance to the bowlers than any other this series, Joe Root's eclectic collection of 57 runs from 45 balls nurtured the visitors to 257, a below par total but at least problematic to chase. Half-centuries from Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina, who finished not out on 89 from 79 balls, helped India home with 15 balls to spare, suggesting that the label problematic was as generous as England's fielding.
But what might have been had umpire Davis not called a dead ball when Finn dislodged the bails in the process of having Raina caught by Alastair Cook? India's match winner was on 41 and the wicket would have left the hosts needing 80 runs from 15 overs with five, not six, wickets left. Instead, Raina hit his third half-century in as many innings and was still there at the finish.
Neither umpire will be on Cook's Christmas card list this year. The England captain battled in vain to remain diplomatic both out in the middle where he held an animated discussion with Davis and later in the post-match press conference.
"Apparently we had been told that because [Finn] knocked them over twice in one of the previous games he was a 'serial offender' and that he was going to get called straight away.
"In the heat of the moment I think a few of us might have forgotten that. I didn't know but apparently the umps were pretty clear that they had told us, so I must have been deaf when I was listening to them."
His opposite number MS Dhoni had a solution, "Ask Finn not to touch the stumps because that will remove all controversy."
What might have been had Kevin Pietersen, who scored the slowest and without doubt ugliest ODI half-century of his career, held a jumping chance from Sharma when the opener was on 12? The 25-year-old was recalled in favour of Ajinkya Rahane, a move designed to protect Rahane from his nemesis Finn rather than as a reward for his replacement's form. Sharma put scores of five, duck, duck, four, four and four in his last six ODIs to the back of his mind on his way to an all-round-the-ground 83.
What might have been had either Jos Buttler, selected behind the stumps ahead of Craig Kieswetter, or Tim Bresnan claimed a sky-high catch off Virat Kohli? That would have left India reeling on 35 for two. As Cook said, "defending 260 we needed early wickets".
What might have been had the England selectors dropped Jade Dernbach after a series of insipid displays? Finn and Bresnan spent 11 overs tying the Indian batsmen up in knots, Dernbach took just three overs costing 23 runs to untie them. At least he was consistent here, consistently short and wide. His 9.3 overs went for 59 runs to keep him comfortably at the top of the list of the most expensive bowlers in ODI history.
It was fitting that Dernbach conceded the runs that lost the series. England had hoped to keep it alive for the final match in Dharamsala on Saturday, instead they head to the Himalayan foothills with nothing but a clutch of what-might-have-beens.
England: Alastair Cook (c), Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler (wk), Samit Patel, Joe Root, Tim Bresnan, James Tredwell, Steven Finn, Jade Dernbach
India: Rohit Sharma, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni (c, wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Shami Ahmed
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