It is, of course, an absurd notion to stage a series of seven one-day matches involving the same two teams over a period of 18 days. So great is the potential for dreariness that the real competition can only be to see who gets bored first, the players or the audiences. Ho hum.
Instead of that widely predicted scenario, an utterly enthralling late-summer contest between England and India reached a fittingly absorbing climax yesterday. If the ultimate encounter was the least dramatic of the septet, its unexpected status as a final was all it required. The honours went to England who, after a stutter or two, won by seven wickets with nearly 14 overs unused and thus took the series 4-3.
To the end the teams were evenly matched, one relying on their illustrious old guard, the other boldly – and as it turned out resoundingly correctly – entrusting their fate to a new generation. That the home side won was not only surprising but should almost be cause for national rejoicing. The man of the series was Ian Bell for his 422 runs and, while he has made a hugely significant advance as a batsman to reckon with, the award might equally have gone to his captain, Paul Collingwood.
It was entirely appropriate that Collingwood was there at the end yesterday, unbeaten on 64. This has swiftly become his team. He was accompanied in an unbroken partnership of 114 by Kevin Pietersen, who returned to something like form. Pietersen had to see it through since he was in slight disgrace after running out Bell. England have played their best one-day cricket for perhaps thousands of days, and that includes their victory against Australia in February. They performed regularlyas a unit, most of whose members appeared to know not only what was expected of them but also what they could expectfrom their colleagues. In short, England were slick.
The decisive victory was the most straightforward of their quartet since the opening match of the series at the Rose Bowl. It was also partly predicated on the decision of India's captain, Rahul Dravid, after winning the toss. Then, he bowled first and saw his side suffer the worst of the conditions under lights. Yesterday, he chose to bat, although he must have known that early-morning cloud cover would lend comfort to the bowlers, if not always the movement to accompany it. Comfort, however, can sometimes be a more potent weapon than swing. Dravid's problem was that he had only two front-line seamers.
England bowled splendidly and India batted poorly. In a revitalised, almost reborn, James Anderson and the fearless tiro Stuart Broad they have unearthed an incisive pair of opening bowlers. When Andrew Flintoff is first change, as he was again yesterday, the feeling exists that anything is possible. Flintoff is among the top two or three one-day bowlers in the world, and the prospect that they must have to face him soon must affect the manner of the opposition batsmen's play. But Flintoff's ankle will continue to require the most careful management, though it was confirmed yesterday that he will indeed travel to South Africa for the World Twenty20. England have also asked if they can send Dimitri Mascarenhas in place of Ryan Sidebottom.
India's demise was slightly overshadowed by the contentious dismissal of Sachin Tendulkar. He was adjudged caught behind when it looked as though the ball had missed his outside edge, something replays immediately confirmed. Tendulkar's series has been blighted by poor decisions, but it was not his departure that cost India the match.
England offered little for the batsmen to hit, and the sense of urgency and frustration that this caused led wickets to tumble. None of the big three made much of an impression. If Tendulkar was cut off in his prime, Sourav Ganguly, batting as a man possessed, eventually edged to slip, and Dravid was undone by an inswinger from Flintoff which took an inside edge. He clearly disagreed with the decision, but was wrong to do so.
From 59 for 4, the rest of India's innings was a firefight. England, bowling their overs at funereal pace once more, never let them settle. Their fielding has been the chief component of their revelation in this series and may also be the chief factor in their slow over-rate. Collingwood is precise in his field placings, which is to be commended but also ensures that the right man is in the right place at the right time, which can take some organising.
With the sun beginning to peep through England had the best of the batting conditions. That estimation lasted until the second over when, within the space of three balls, both openers, Matt Prior and Luke Wright, went without scoring.
Wright kept his place at the expense of Alastair Cook with Flintoff returning. He and Prior are an odd opening partnership, not built to endure in any sense. On this occasion it mattered not, but there will be occasions when it matters a great deal indeed.
India won toss
S C Ganguly c Flintoff b Anderson (22 balls, 2 fours) 15
S R Tendulkar c Prior b Flintoff (46 balls, 4 fours) 30
G Gambhir c Wright b Anderson (20 balls) 12
*R Dravid c Prior b Flintoff (3 balls) 0
Yuvraj Singh c Collingwood b Mascarenhas (48 balls, 1 four, 1 six) 28
R V Uthappa c Anderson b Mascarenhas (30 balls, 2 fours) 22
M S Dhoni c Anderson b Flintoff (72 balls, 4 fours, 1 six) 50
R R Powar run out (Shah/Prior) (20 balls, 1 four) 10
Piyush Chawla st Prior b Mascarenhas (6 balls) 0
Z Khan b Panesar (16 balls, 1 four) 7
R P Singh not out (6 balls) 1
Extras (lb8 nb4) 12
Total (47.3 overs) 187
Fall: 1-26 (Ganguly), 2-52 (Gambhir), 3-53 (Dravid), 4-59 (Tendulkar), 5-106 (Uthappa), 6-119 (Yuvraj Singh), 7-147 (Powar), 8-148 (Piyush Chawla), 9-160 (Khan), 10-187 (Dhoni)
Bowling: J M Anderson 9-1-28-2, S C J Broad 10-0-44-0, A Flintoff 8.3-0-45-3 (4nb), A D Mascarenhas 10-2-23-3, L J Wright 2-0-11-0, M S Panesar 8-2-28-1.
M J Prior c Dhoni b Singh (7 balls) 0
L J Wright c and b Singh (2 balls) 0
I R Bell run out (Tendulkar/Ganguly) (40 balls, 6 fours) 36
K P Pietersen not out (96 balls, 6 fours, 1 six) 71
*P D Collingwood not out (73 balls, 7 fours, 1 six) 64
Extras (lb8 w9) 17
Total (3 wkts, 36.2 overs) 188
Fall: 1-10 (Wright), 2-11 (Prior), 3-74 (Bell).
Did not bat: O A Shah, A Flintoff, A D Mascarenhas, S C J Broad, J M Anderson, M S Panesar
Bowling: Z Khan 9-1-40-0 (1w), R P Singh 7-0-40-2 (4w), Piyush Chawla 9-1-44-0, S C Ganguly 4-0-13-0, R R Powar 5.2-0-32-0, Yuvraj Singh 2-0-11-0.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and I J Gould (Eng).
Third umpire: P J Hartley. Match referee: R S Mahanama (SL).
England won by seven wickets, and win seven-match series 4-3.
Man of the Match: KP Pietersen (Eng). Man of the Series: I R Bell (Eng).Reuse content