England's plan to get on a roll and become unstoppable in pursuit of their second successive World Twenty20 title ran into a spot of bother in Colombo last night. Having opened their title defence with a crushing defeat of Afghanistan they rather intended it to be the launch pad to glory.
Unfortunately, they found India in much less generous mood and were summarily swept aside by 90 runs. Chasing India's challenging but not unsurpassable score of 170, they were dismissed for 80 in under 15 overs. It was England's lowest total and heaviest defeat in T20 matches, a huge reversal, marked by their traditional incompetence against spin on Asian pitches.
If they thought they had learned to cope they were manifestly wrong and their anticipation of the Super Eight stage of the tournament which begins on Thursday will now be accompanied by familiar nightmares.
As both sides had already qualified, the edge in this group game had been removed. This was neither excuse nor explanation, however, especially since the teams adopted different approaches. Stuart Broad, England's captain, insisted that his side needed to win for the sake of all-important momentum, while M S Dhoni of India said he was using it for a bit of jolly practice and proved it by resting three players including the illustrious Virender Sehwag and his best bowler Ravichandran Ashwin.
England were clueless, their footwork of the type to be found in a three-legged race, their shot selection, usually across the line, executed as if in a blindfold. Duncan Fletcher, coach of India but once in charge of England, must have been reminded of the old days. Perhaps the wily old fox knew what might happen.
It was only natural to ponder what might have taken place if Kevin Pietersen had been in their ranks, not least because he was being paid as a pundit in a television studio a few miles away. Looking a little further ahead it can spread only alarm and despondency about England's prospects in the Test series against India in India, which begins in November. If they cannot cope in a T20 innings where anything goes, the rigours of a Test match are likely to cause mayhem.
Broad was disappointed but not disheartened. "Some days we play spin really nicely but then there are days like today when we all play it badly together," he said. "As a captain I'm pleased it happened today and not in a match that could've knocked us out.
"We showed the other day against Afghanistan what we could do by hitting straight down the ground and it was disappointing that we lost wickets hitting across the line. We will have to learn from this match and the good thing is they're young guys who learn quickly."
England's council of war spent an age looking at the pitch before the match. They stopped short of taking turf samples to be sent away for examination by experts but it must have been a near thing.
They were trying to judge whether to play one spinner or more. In general the answer to that question on subcontinental pitches should always be in the affirmative but England went with four seamers.
The upshot was that Graeme Swann, England's solitary spinner, was commendable in taking 1 for 17 runs. India's pair of Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla, who were thought to be little more than travelling reserves, took 6 for 25 between them in eight overs.
It might have been different had left-arm seamer Irfan Pathan not made early inroads into England's top order, which cleared the route for the spinners. England felt they had no time to wait but it was nonsensical stuff as Harbhajan produced his top spinner which batsmen tried to cut or slog.
England's batting made India's total seemed gigantic. It could have been 20 or so fewer. The fielding was not at its sharpest, some of the bowling was awry in length. The top scorer was Rohit Sharma who made an unbeaten 55 in 33 balls but the innings was given its impetus by the prolific Virat Kohli.
When Swann had him snaffled in the deep for the most assured 40, England might have briefly presumed their troubles were over. They were just starting.
World Twenty20 Group A match, R Premadasa Stadium. India (2pts) beat England by 90 runs
England won toss
Runs 6s 4s Bls Min
G Gambhir c Kieswetter b Finn 45 0 5 38 70
I K Pathan b Finn 8 0 1 8 14
V Kohli c Bairstow b Swann 40 0 6 32 32
R G Sharma not out 55 1 5 33 47
*†M S Dhoni c Hales b Dernbach 9 0 1 8 23
S K Raina not out 1 0 0 1 1
Extras (b1 lb3 w8) 12
Total(for 4, 20 overs) 170
Fall: 1-24, 2-81, 3-119, 4-166.
Did not bat: Yuvraj Singh, P P Chawla, Harbhajan Singh, A Dinda, L Balaji.
Bowling: S T Finn 4-0-33-2, J W Dernbach 4-0-45-1, S C J Broad 4-0-36-0, T T Bresnan 4-0-35-0, G P Swann 4-0-17-1.
Runs 6s 4s Bls Min
†C Kieswetter c Kohli b Chawla 35 2 4 25 37
A D Hales b Pathan 0 0 0 2 2
L J Wright lbw b Pathan 6 1 0 4 6
E J G Morgan b Harbhajan Singh 2 0 0 6 11
J M Bairstow b Chawla 1 0 0 8 4
J C Buttler b Harbhajan Singh 11 0 1 12 15
T T Bresnan c Gambhir b Harbhajan Singh 1 0 0 8 4
*S C J Broad c Gambhir b Dinda 3 0 0 3 10
G P Swann st Dhoni b Harbhajan Singh 0 0 0 3 0
S T Finn not out 8 0 1 10 15
J W Dernbach run out 12 0 2 7 12
Extras (w1) 1
Total(14.4 overs) 80
Fall: 1-2, 2-18, 3-39, 4-42, 5-51, 6-54, 7-60, 8-60, 9-60.
Bowling: I K Pathan 3-0-17-2, L Balaji 1-0-10-0, A Dinda 2-0-26-1, Harbhajan Singh 4-2-12-4, P P Chawla 4-1-13-2, Yuvraj Singh 0.4-0-2-0.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and S J A Taufel (Aus).
P W L T NR Pts R/R
India (Q) 2 2 0 0 0 4 2.82
England (Q) 2 1 1 0 0 2 0.65
Afghanistan 2 0 2 0 0 0 -3.47