Vaughan's England crash back to earth

<preform>India 204<br>England 181<br>India win by 23 runs</preform>
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The Independent Online

England's 23-run defeat in yesterday's final NatWest Challenge match against India was a timely reminder that Michael Vaughan's team still have a fair way to go before they can be considered a top one-day outfit. England have made progress in this three-match series, and their 2-1 victory should ensure that they enter Friday's Champions Trophy encounter against Zimbabwe in confident mood.

England's 23-run defeat in yesterday's final NatWest Challenge match against India was a timely reminder that Michael Vaughan's team still have a fair way to go before they can be considered a top one-day outfit. England have made progress in this three-match series, and their 2-1 victory should ensure that they enter Friday's Champions Trophy encounter against Zimbabwe in confident mood.

But the sight of their batsmen floundering, when faced with a modest total of 204, still leaves one wondering how they will cope against teams such as Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and West Indies, who are in better one-day form than India.

England were weakened by the absence of their star performer Andrew Flintoff - who spent the day with his fiancé, Rachael, after she went into labour with their first child - and my, did they miss him. The all-rounder's runs and wickets are obvious examples of his contribution to the team's success but it is his presence that they miss most. With Freddie in the side, England's players feel that anything is possible. Without him, the gremlins return.

If they wanted to, England could use Flintoff's absence, along with the fact they had already wrapped up the series, as an excuse for their disappointing display, but India could also blame the injury to Sachin Tendulkar - which has now caused him to withdraw from the Champions Trophy - for their indifferent form.

But both sides need to be able to cope without these stars and England appeared to do so in the field, where they were outstanding. Here Vaughan's side backed up the hostile bowling of Stephen Harmison with a committed and athletic display. The Durham paceman continued his magnificent form with career-best figures of 4 for 22.

Harmison was given excellent support by Alex Wharf, Ashley Giles and Darren Gough, who became the first England bowler to take 200 one-day international wickets when he dismissed Harbhajan Singh. Gough has his critics but if he continues to bowl like this he will remain in England's one-day side.

His presence may be stopping the development of James Anderson as a bowler, but a captain wants as many reliable figures as he can in his side, and Vaughan knows what he will get from Gough every time he pulls on an England shirt.

The batting though is more of a concern. Most of the capacity crowd expected England to romp home but Marcus Trescothick and Vikram Solanki were both guilty of playing loose shots. Their early departure gave hope to Sourav Ganguly's side, as well as their passionate, noisy fans who filled more than half the 30,000 seats.

With his tail up, Irfan Pathan then trapped Andrew Strauss and Anthony McGrath plum in front and England were 29 for 4. With the crowd and the weather making Lord's feel like Calcutta, India were on fire. The fielding - which in the previous two games had resembled the goalkeeping of David James - was sharp, and Mohammed Kaif produced brilliant reflexes to run out Paul Collingwood at short-leg.

Geraint Jones fell attempting to hit his way out of trouble and this left Vaughan and Giles to save face. And how well they did. The pair put on 92 runs and gave England a chance of pulling off an unlikely victory.

However, both fell in Harbhajan's final over. With 51 runs required, Giles hit a catch back to the bowler and Vaughan - after posting his highest one-day score for 14 months - fell to a brilliant leg-side stumping by Dinesh Karthik.

Wharf and Gough slogged a couple of huge sixes before Ashish Nehra won the game when he ripped Gough's leg-stump out of the ground.

That India were able to post a competitive total was largely down to a 93-run partnership between Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. The pair came together after the loss of three early wickets. VVS Laxman was bowled by a sensational yorker from Harmison and Virender Sehwag - dropped down the order after scores of four and nought at Trent Bridge and The Oval - chipped a simple catch back to Giles in his first over.

But it was the farcical run-out of Kaif that summed up India's fragile batting. Ganguly had just hit Giles back over his head for four and was looking for a quick single. But instead of finding the gap, the Indian captain clipped the ball straight to Collingwood at midwicket. Ganguly set off immediately, despite protestations from Kaif at the non-striker's end, and proceeded to run past his team-mate, thus ensuring he could not be out.

Ganguly, whose running between during this three-match series has been shocking, did not let this aberration affect him and continued to play immaculately.

His new partner, Dravid, relieved of the wicket-keeping gloves so that he could concentrate on his batting, took his time and gradually the exquisite timing returned. Vaughan changed his bowlers around and overs began to slide by.

Sensing this, Ganguly began to hit out until, on 90, he lofted Harmison straight to Vaughan at mid-wicket. Dravid attempted to extract further runs from the lower-order but each batter failed to give him the support he required.

Wharf, celebrating the news of his call-up into England's Champions Trophy squad following Kabir Ali's failure to recover from a side strain, finished a fine display from the bowlers when he skittled out a slogging Pathan.

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