England slumped to their second consecutive one-day defeat inside a week but this time the architect of their downfall was not the rashness of their strokeplay but a sublime 81 not out from Indian teenager Suresh Raina.
A target of 226 on a low and slow track looked as though it might have been beyond India, who had slumped to 92 for 5 when Raina was joined by the flamboyant Mahendra Dhoni. Watchfully at first but then playing with greater freedom, the pair posted a stand of 118 runs off 129 balls that enabled the home side to squeeze home with one over to spare and four wickets in hand.
The remaining five matches in the series might now prove long and arduous for England’s inexperienced side, who find themselves 2-0 down having twice let an outstanding limited-overs team off the hook.
The 19-year-old Raina displayed a maturity beyond his years to register his first half-century in one-day cricket and earn the man of the match award complete with the motorbike that seems customary in India.
The innings also overshadowed Kevin Pietersen’s achievement of not only top- scoring for England with 71 at the Nahar Singh Stadium but also passing 1,000 runs in one-day internationals. By doing so in only 21 innings he equalled the record set by Viv Richards, the great West Indian batsman.
Speaking after the match, captain Andrew Flintoff defended England’s decision to play just one spinner – Ian Blackwell, who again bowled with impressive control. By contrast India included the extra spinning option of Ramesh Powar, a tactic that paid dividends as he returned figures of 3-34 off his 10-over ration and was one of five slow bowlers used by captain Rahul Dravid.
“We picked our seamers who we thought would do us the job both in Delhi [last Monday] and here,” said Flintoff. “At 90 for 5 it almost worked had it not been for the partnership between Raina and Dhoni. It was a special innings [of Raina] which was the difference between the two sides at the end of the day. We don’t have much experience in the dressing room and we hope to go on from here.”
After Flintoff won the toss on his 100th one-day appearance, Andrew Strauss posted a solid 61 and combined well with Pietersen who seemed chastened by his dismissal at Delhi that had sparked his team’s collapse. Pietersen took 64 balls to strike his first boundary and reached 1,000 one-day runs with a six and a deft reverse sweep before chipping tamely to a jubilant Dravid at mid-wicket. As in Delhi, the middle order failed to consolidate, with the tourists losing their last five wickets for just 33 runs.
The Indian reply began brightly with the openers posting a stand of 61 before a clatter of wickets, including the bizarre run-out of Dravid by Paul Collingwood, who broke the stumps with a theatrical dive. The Indian captain had tried to steal a single after wicketkeeper Geraint Jones had already unsuccessfully attempted to run him out and had hit the stumps with a throw, only for the ball to rebound towards Collingwood.
But this was merely the prelude to Raina’s brilliance, who having survived a sharp caught-and-bowled chance to James Anderson when on 20, drove and cut majestically. He even unveiled an outrageous sweep over his shoulder off a bemused Liam Plunkett.
India have continued an amazing run of successfully chasing targets, 14 in a row, which is on a par with the West Indies in their one-day pomp.
For England, though, there are more questions than answers, especially at the top of the order with Owais Shah yet to score a run in this series and Matt Prior’s selection as a non-keeping wicketkeeper-batsman reeking of confusion.
It gets hotter, more humid and harder for England as they head south to Goa for match number three on Monday.