Ian Bell rescued Ashley Giles from a humiliating international coaching debut but could not prevent England's new year beginning with a whimpering 53-run defeat to India A in Delhi yesterday.
Opener Bell was the penultimate wicket to fall, his 91 off 89 balls the perfect anchor innings. However, in pursuit of a revised target of 229 from 39 overs, too many of his partners sunk without trace; his ninth-wicket half-century partnership with Steven Finn that took England from 117 to 168 – they succumbed for 175 – was like watching seamen bail the Titanic with a thimble.
The day did not begin well for the tourists. Alastair Cook arrived at the ground nursing a cold. As the mercury slipped below four degrees, he wisely passed on responsibilities to Eoin Morgan, whose final act of 2012 was a last-ball six to win the second Twenty20 international in Mumbai.
His first of 2013 was to win the toss but that was as good as it got for Morgan, one of six England batsmen to be dismissed for single figures in conditions that better resembled a January day on the coast of his native Ireland. Bell thought "Liverpool in early April" was more accurate.
If, in this land of palmists and ten-a-penny astrologists, England's invalided captain was looking for auguries as he attempts to lay to rest England's 28-year one-day hoodoo in India, he might consider that the novelty of fog stopping play in Delhi bodes well. The breaking of his side's equivalent 28-year Test hoodoo before Christmas was heralded by a warm-up match being halted by an equally novel monkey invasion.
Bell, to his credit, did not indulge in straw-grasping. "I thought they outplayed us completely," said England's anchorman. Under the revised one-day international regulations, bowlers are now permitted two bouncers per over, up from one. Like kids with stabilisers removed, Finn, Jade Dernbach and Tim Bresnan bounced with abandon. The result was a chase that was at least 30 runs too many.
Bell admitted that India A "didn't have the pace in their attack that we did" but they decided "just to bowl top of the stumps and that was quite hard to get away". The victor's decision not to exploit the rule change for change's sake paid off. Kevin Pietersen, back for the first time since rescinding his one-day retirement, initially looked to be making light work of the chase as he struck three boundaries of a single Sreesanth over. His miscue to mid-on cheered the chilblained crowd but derailed England's response.
Unlike the fog, Samit Patel failed to hang around. His dismissal left England 42 for 2, which became 72 for 6 as the next four batsmen retreated to the pavilion with undue haste. Bell promised lessons would be learned. "We'll make sure we don't make the same mistakes with bat and ball in the next practice game."
That day-night match takes place against a Delhi XI tomorrow at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium, where yesterday India salvaged a modicum of pride by beating Pakistan by 10 runs to avoid the shame of a 3-0 series whitewash. Cook will return, cold permitting, for what is their final warm-up match before the series begins in earnest in Rajkot on Friday. The selectors may also cast an eye over fast bowler Stuart Meaker and spinner Danny Briggs. Briggs's fellow slow bowler, James Tredwell, was the pick of England's bowlers here in defeat.
The new year may not have started the way Ashley Giles had resolved but the good news for England's new coach is that things can only get better in 2013.
* We are unable to print live pictures from yesterday's play after a dispute with the Indian Cricket Board, which has refused access to major picture agencies, which we view as a restriction on the press.