India lose on countback

SP
The semi-monocoque, futuristic structure of the media box that loomed in the background at Rajkot was almost a carbon copy. And the target of 326 brought back hopeful memories of that Lord's twilight, when India pulled off an impossible chase almost a decade ago. But MS Dhoni found no ocassion to twirl his shirt as England won the slugfest in the early day-nighter to go 1-0 up in the five-match series as India fell 9 runs short of the visitor's total of 325-4.

The English bowlers Jade Dernbach and Tim Bresnan were the ones to hyper-celebrate the win in the series opener. But with nine bowlers on either side going for more than six an over, this was simply batsmen dominating a game on the deadest of pitches, and England pilfering a few more in their last two overs to get their muzzle ahead in the series.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma, who conceded 18 and 20 in their final overs each, were at the crease to watch the Englishmen rub it in, but no one would blame the bowlers on this surface where batsmen seemed to get out only to boredom. As many as five fifties were scored, and 4 other batsmen got into the 40s. Offie James Tredwell was the only good news for bowlers on either side, picking the Man of the Match award for his four wickets, each a set batsman. Skipper Dhoni fancied his chances, lofting four times into the stands but was left rueing his dismissal in the 45th over and Raina's three overs before when the target seemed imminently gettable.

The skipper was a man possessed and those four towering sixes till then made Dhoni look like the lone man standing between a win and defeat. It wasn't really unusual as in the past couple of games Dhoni has found himself in circumstances where all eyes have been glued on him. The asking rate had just crossed the nine run-mark and Dhoni had been reading Jade Dernbach slower ones well. But this one he mis-timed a wee-bit to be caught at long off by debutant Joe Root. His wicket sealed the deal as England bounced back at the SCA, Khanderi Stadium. India's tailenders tried to make the climax of the run-chase interesting with 18 runs required from six balls but it was more than a tough task for them.

Opening new chapter

Chasing 325 runs, India's new opening pair of Gautam Gambhir and Ajinkya Rahane started well and frequently dispatched bad balls for fours. Bowlers had no room for error as Indian openers slammed four fours in Steven Finn's third over. The run-flow never really halted and boundaries came regularly. It was India's first fifty runs opening partnership in the last seven innings and when they looked to cross their three figure mark, Rahane lofted one to long-off off Tredwell. Gambhir had been impressive so far with his ability to use his wrist but soon followed suit and India lost their openers within two overs even as Tredwell gave a good account of himself on his first match of the tour on a flat pitch against this formidably big set of hitters.

Playing his seventh ball, Yuvraj Singh had handsomely slog swept for four ensuring England stayed on their toes. After out-of-form Virat Kohli was caught behind trying to drive Tim Bresnan's length delivery to covers, Yuvraj slammed one awkward six to deep square leg and hit Dernbach for three fours. Root was sent away for back to back boundaries as Yuvraj's fifty came up in 38 balls. Batting with Suresh Raina, he helped run up 60 in nine overs.

powerless play

However, India managed only 33 runs in their last power play and the run rate kept mounting every over. Raina looked set and seemed to have gotten his timing back, especially when scoring consecutive boundaries in the powerplay. But England successfully negotiated their five overs of power-play with Tredwell controlling things. And after Dhoni departed, there was little hope.

Earlier, England got a good start to their ODI tour as their top-order took off where they left in the Tests. However, it was the last two overs of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma which in the end looked the game changers. Craig Kieswetter and Samit Patel scored 38 runs in the last two as England managed to go from 287 for 4 to 325 with the part-timer playing a blinder.

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