Better, but still not good enough. High quality, confident teams that are playing to their full potential do not give opponents many opportunities yet England twice had India in trouble during yesterday's second one-dayer in Indore, but on each occasion they failed to capitalise.
One opening was more glaring than the other but the player who is fast becoming England's nemesis – Yuvraj Singh – closed both. When Stuart Broad dismissed Rohit Sharma to reduce India to 29-3 on an indifferent pitch, it appeared as though England were about to produce a remarkable reversal. The perplexed look on the faces of Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina as they departed suggested India's batsmen were unsure how to play on a surface offering inconsistent bounce. The free hitting of Rajkot, where India rattled up 387-5 in the opening one-dayer, seemed like a distant memory.
But Yuvraj, rejuvenated by his unbeaten 138 in Rajkot and fully recovered from the back complaint that caused him to use a runner, had other ideas. His hundred, the tenth of his one-day career, was not as destructive as that scored on Friday but it was equally skilful and important. When Broad finally dismissed Yuvraj for 118 in the 44th over India were on 239-6, a position that allowed them to post an imposing total.
England's second window was not quite as conclusive as the first and it came when Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen clubbed 59 during the five-over Powerplay they, as the batting side, were permitted to enforce. With India allowed to position only three fielders outside the 30-yard circle Flintoff and Pietersen created mayhem, silencing a delirious 30,000 crowd. Flintoff hit the previously unhittable Harbhajan Singh into the packed stands on three occasions in an over and the seamers were given plenty of welly, too.
The onslaught left England requiring 110 off the final 13 overs, a tough but not unattainable goal with Flintoff and Pietersen at the crease. But England's hopes disappeared in the space of four Yuvraj balls. The first trapped Flintoff and the fourth slipped through Pietersen's guard and hit his off stump.
It was wayward and ill-judged bowling that caused England to let India back in to the game. The brilliance of Yuvraj and Gautam Gambhir, who scored a classy and responsible 70, had a little to do with it, too. The pair put on 134 crucial runs in 22 overs, allowing India to reach 292, 50 runs more than they should have scored.
Pietersen admitted as much. "I'm going to take Yuvraj out in the hotel tonight and make sure he doesn't come to Kanpur," he joked. "I think we definitely failed to capitalise on our start, but then again when you've got a guy batting like Yuvraj Singh it is pretty difficult. He is a game-breaker. He is a guy who wins a game and when he is batting the way he is he is very difficult to get out.
"I definitely thought victory could have been ours during that Powerplay, one hundred per cent. I thought if Fred and I used that Powerplay well, without slogging or silly hitting and came out of it OK, we'd give ourselves a chance. We made a decision and we both went hard at it. The momentum came back with us. Unfortunately we failed to capitalise on that, too, but we were much more competitive and that was great." Flintoff, England's most consistent and best one-day bowler, was the most culpable of the seamers. The all-rounder bowled too many balls on the legs of the left-handers, deliveries that were comfortably nudged to fine leg for four. He bowled a no ball, too, and Yuvraj walloped the resultant free-hit for six. The opportunity of having a free swipe seemed to wake Yuvraj up and from that moment on he never looked back.
In the build up England had spoken about being more aggressive, which they were to begin with. But aggression is not just about bowling fast bouncers, cursing the batsman, throwing the ball hard at the wicket-keeper or slogging it out of the ground. Aggression can be shown in the fields a captain sets, and England seemed to take a step back when the fielding restrictions ended. Pietersen used the moment to introduce his spinner, Samit Patel. But rather than put pressure on the batsman by positioning fielders saving singles he chose to place five on the boundary. The tactic handed the initiative to India and they took it.
On turning pitches England need a better and more experienced spinner in their side. They can accommodate one, which means Graeme Swann should return for Thursday's third encounter in Kanpur.
India won toss
G Gambhir b Pietersen 70
V Sehwag b Broad 1
S K Raina c Patel b Broad 4
R G Sharma c Shah b Broad 3
Yuvraj Singh c Prior b Broad 118
*†M S Dhoni b Collingwood 15
Y K Pathan not out 50
Harbhajan Singh run out 8
Z Khan run out 1
R P Singh b S J Harmison 4
M M Patel not out 0
Extras (b3 lb9 w4 nb2) 18
Total (for 9, 50 overs) 292
Fall: 1-4 2-15 3-29 4-163 5-206 6-239 7-258 8-261 9-274.
Bowling: Anderson 6-0-26-0; Broad 10-1-55-4; Flintoff 9-0-49-0; S J Harmison 7-1-50-1; Patel 5-0-37-0; Collingwood 8-0-43-1; Pietersen 5-0-20-1.
I R Bell run out 1
†M J Prior b Yuvraj Singh 38
O A Shah lbw b Yuvraj Singh 58
*K P Pietersen b Yuvraj Singh 33
A Flintoff lbw b Yuvraj Singh 43
P D Collingwood c and b Harbhajan Singh 2
S R Patel c Gambhir b Sehwag 20
R S Bopara c S K Raina b Pathan 3
S C J Broad b Sehwag 22
S J Harmison st Dhoni b Sehwag 6
J M Anderson not out 1
Extras (lb2 w6 nb3) 11
Total (47 overs) 238
Fall: 1-6 2-102 3-109 4-183 5-184 6-187 7-191 8-222 9-233.
Bowling: Khan 8-1-37-0; M M Patel 7-0-31-0; R P Singh 5-0-49-0; Yuvraj Singh 10-0-28-4; Harbhajan Singh 10-0-45-1; Sehwag 5-0-28-3; Pathan 2-0-18-1.
Man of the match: Yuvraj Singh.
Umpires: S L Shastri (Ind) and S J A Taufel (Aus).