England won an international match in India last night. This had not happened in 15 matches since 2006 – and since it came in the inaugural Twenty20 match between the sides in India, and the first of the international kind at Eden Gardens, it will be worth remembering.
The six-wicket victory was achieved with a clinical efficiency and precision which belied everything that had come before on this tour. It enhanced England's status as the best T20 side in the world, world champions and still, as they say, number one.
Where the previous four weeks had displayed a sloppiness and weariness which could have only one outcome they arrived last night to give it one last shot. First they restricted India to 120 for nine, bowling with mastery of and understanding what the conditions had to offer. Steve Finn, who has seemed to mature before our very eyes this past month even in the gloom of defeat, was again outstanding.
Still, it needed a batsman to take a grip on matters, which had not exactly been England's preserve as they slumped ignominiously to their usual hammering, this time by 5-0, in the one-day series. That man inevitably was Kevin Pietersen.
A doubt until the last minute because of a fractured left thumb which had forced him to miss the final one-day international match, Pietersen had been desperate to play. Of course, he is always keen to represent England at cricket.
But it may also have crossed his mind that this match presented other opportunities. One was to play at Eden Gardens. Another was that it was a perfect shop window to display his T20 skills, what with this country being T20 crazy and the fifth version of the lucrative Indian Premier League starting next April.
He might have withdrawn a couple of days earlier, but he was determined to give himself every opportunity and it paid off in style. Pietersen was at his best, as irrepressible as he was innovative. Crucially perhaps, he was dropped off a top-edge sweep on one. Of the three sixes in his 53 from 39 balls, the first, a reverse hit way over what would have been cover, was of the highest order.
Had he stayed England would probably have cantered to victory with many more than the eight balls they had to spare. As it was, he was cut off in his prime essaying another reverse hit. When he missed he was given out lbw although the ball pitched outside leg stump and Suresh Raina was bowling round the wicket, both of which mitigated against the verdict.
Pietersen and England's captain for the match, Graeme Swann, appeared afterwards to answer questions about the last-ditch win. The result, of course, was insufficient. It was their first appearance together since Swann's comments in his autobiography that he did not think Pietersen should not have been captain of England as he was not a natural leader. Pietersen did not exactly let his audience down. "It's not something that I agree with players writing books during their career, ones like that anyway." He added the last bit, presumably because he has written a book himself, or, like Swann, had it written on his behalf.
"Our environment is happy. It was a long time ago, I drew a line under the dreadful 18 months I had before I went to the Ashes last year, I've got pretty thick skin as well, with the battering I received weekly. It was something that was around for a day or two. It's not something I'm worried about it's got nothing to do with our relationships. It's absolutely fine, There are no dramas."
Swann, like his team, was relieved to end England's playing year as they had spent so much of it – winning. "The team played with the verve and pizzazz we want England to play with," he said. "It was nothing to do with me being captain and Kev scoring the runs, it's to do with the great attitude that these young lads have."
England started wonderfully on the slow pitch with wickets for a ferocious Finn and Tim Bresnan in the first two overs. India never recovered, although Raina promised reparation for a while until he cut a slower one from Finn to point.
Pietersen found an important ally in Samit Patel, another to enhance his reputation and England got home despite the trickiness of the Indian spinners with something to spare.
India won toss and elected to field
RV Uthappa c Kieswetter b Bresnan 1/3/0/0
AM Rahane c Kieswetter b Finn 0/3/0/0
V Kohli c Hales b Bresnan 15/16/3/0
SK Raina c Bairstow b Finn 39/29/4/2
MK Tiwary b Patel 15/17/0/0
*†MS Dhoni run out (Dernbach) 21/26/0/1
RA Jadeja b Finn 0/1/0/0
YK Pathan b Bopara 10/12/1/0
P Kumar b Bopara 0/2/0/0
R Ashwin not out 17/11/3/0
Extras (lb1, w1)
Total (9 wkts; 20 overs) 120
Fall 1-1 (Rahane, 0.4 overs), 2-5 (Uthappa, 1.2), 3-26 (Kohli, 5.2), 4-66 (Tiwary, 10.4), 5-74 (Raina, 11.5), 6-74 (Jadeja, 11.6), 7-91 (Pathan, 16.3), 8-91 (Kumar, 16.5), 9-120 (Dhoni, 19.6).
Did not bat R Vinay Kumar.
Bowling Finn 4-0-22-3, Bresnan 4-1-19-2, Dernbach 4-0-26-0, Patel 3-0-13-1, Swann 2-0-23-0, Bopara 3-1-16-2 (1w).
AD Hales c Rahane b Pathan 11/19/0/0
†C Kieswetter c Tiwary b Jadeja 12/10/2/0
KP Pietersen lbw b Raina 53/39/5/3
SR Patel c Tiwary b Kohli 21/25/1/1
RS Bopara not out 15 /16 /1 /0
JM Bairstow not out 2/3/0/0
Extras (lb3, w4) 7
Total (4 wkts; 18.4 overs) 121
Fall 1-21 (Kieswetter, 3.2 overs), 2-40 (Hales, 6.6), 3-100 (Patel, 14.4), 4-106 (Pietersen, 15.5).
Did not bat JC Buttler, TT Bresnan, *GP Swann, ST Finn, JW Dernbach.
Bowling Ashwin 4-0-20-0 (1w), Pathan 3-0-34-1, Jadeja 4-1-9-1 (1w), P Kumar 1-0-13-0, R Vinay Kumar 2-0-19-0, V Kohli 2.4-0-13-1, SK Raina 2-0-9-1 (1w).
Umpires S Asnani (India) and S Ravi (India).
Man of the match Kevin Pietersen (England).
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