India has clinched a hat-trick of wins amidst fading light at the Green Park Stadium in Kanpur. The homeside was clever enough to keep its head cool and work its way to a total that was 16 runs ahead of the Duckworth Lewis Target when bad light inevitably stopped the match at around 4:40 PM. The third ODI had a delayed start of 45 minutes because of the hazy conditions and it was a bizarre situation to see the action get curtailed in the morning and the evening despite the stadium having flood lights that stood up uselessly. The stars of the match were Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag while Yuvraj had no chance of scoring his hat-trick century with England making just 240 on the board.
Toss : England won the toss this time and for the first time were going to bat first in this series. They made a crucial change to their side by including off spinner Graeme Swann instead of Steve Harmison. India on the other hand strengthened its bowling attack by bringing in Ishant Sharma for RP Singh.
England makes a complete mess of a good opening start
The match was curtailed to a 49 overs a side contest with the batting powerplay getting reduced to 4 overs. The first few overs saw the new English opening combination of Ravi Bopara and Ian Bell just allowing the Indian new ball pair of Zaheer and Munaf bowl to their lines. But the slow start blossomed into a promising one as the two right handers played some wristy shots especially through the off side. India was now kept under slight pressure as the two batsmen built up a wonderful platform for the middle order although the pitch and the quick outfield demanded atleast 300 on the board. In the 15th over, Munaf Patel provided the much needed break for his side which came through a 0% shot from Bell, that of trying to steer one down to thirdman and nicking it to the keeper. Bell scored 46 from 47 balls with 8 fours and had out on 79 in 14.3 overs for the first wicket with Bopara. Once the two powerplays were out of the way, MS Dhoni changed the pace of the game by bowling Harbhajan and Yuvraj in tandem which entirely slowed the tempo down.
Harbhajan Singh started his spell superbly by giving the ball a lot of air and bowling it slow in the air which he normally doesn’t do at all. The pair of Bopara and Kevin Pietersen couldn’t maintain the high run rate as Harbhajan in particular got the ball to grip and as a result there were plenty of dot balls. Kevin Pietersen succumbed to the pressure of thinking far ahead of the game as he lofted Harbhajan straight into the hands of long on for a quick exit making just the 13 runs. Harbhajan, who had resisted himself from bowling the doosras during the Australia Test Series has kept on unleashing this magic delivery in this series. And Paul Collingwood got completely foxed by the doosra which drifted in and turned away to beat him out of the crease and England slipped to 106 for 3 in the 22nd over. In the 29th over, Yuvraj Singh found some unexpected turn to beat a well set Bopara which saw a second stumping for MS Dhoni. England desperately needed Bopara to carry on and make a hundred but he fell playing across the line after a decent knock of 60 from 82 balls with 8 fours.
England’s biggest problem was the number of dot balls the batsmen were facing and the Indian spinners had little trouble in sustaining the pressure. Even Freddie Flintoff failed to deliver and yet again got lbw playing across the line, this time to a fastish off break from Yusuf Pathan. Flintoff (26 from 46 with 2 fours) was caught in no man’s land whether to play his natural game or to bat out cautiously and build a partnership, a long interruption because of the sight screen added to his dismissal as well. England collapsed to 167 for 5 in the 37th over and could just scrape through to 240 all out in 48.4 overs thanks to its batting depth. Owais Shah (40 from 42 balls) and Samit Patel (26 from 29 balls which included a six) added some crucial runs towards the end but those only helped England to get to respectability. The Indian bowlers barring a rusty Ishant had done superbly well in conceding just the 21 fours on a deadly quick outfield along with bowling more than 150 dot balls! Harbhajan Singh finished with mean figures of 10-2-31-3 and had got his 200th ODI wicket when he had Owais Shah holing out to long off.
Aggressive English fast bowling defied by Sehwag to set up India’s chase
India started off smoothly through Gambhir and Sehwag until the former threw his wicket away by slashing one change bowler Flintoff to thirdman. But Gambhir (14 from 17 balls with 3 fours) did quite well in putting on 31 for the first wicket which was reasonable considering the target being just 241 on a perfect batting track. The English bowlers showed some heartening aggression to make life difficult for the batsmen on a featherbed. India’s no.3 Suresh Raina got peppered with the short pitch stuff from Stuart Broad, who quite deservingly got him bowled off an inside edge. The inroads were made with India shaken up at 34 for 2 in the 10th over. At the other end though, Virender Sehwag was playing very sensibly and was determined to see through the spells of the three fast bowlers. He knew that the spinners will come very soon into the attack. Sehwag found an able partner in Rohit Sharma to bring his team back on track. As the partnership started to take shape, Rohit Sharma brought up some sweetly struck shots and Sehwag took care of the spinners with his intimidating approach.
England could once again come back into the game in the 23rd over when off spinner Graeme Swann got Rohit to edge a cut shot to the keeper. Although Rohit Sharma played his part in putting up an important stand of 73 with Sehwag, he did fail to convert his 28 (from 41 balls) into a meaningful score. At this stage, it was evident that it was matter of an hour or so before the light would come into play and India had to keep its wickets intact. Yuvraj Singh entered into the picture to join Sehwag to form one of the most destructive pair in the middle. However, England were saved from any disaster as Sehwag got brilliantly caught by a leaping Collingwood at point in an attempted slash over the infield. Sehwag scored 68 from 76 balls with 8 fours and a six and fell at 125 for 4 in the 26th over. Flintoff was the wicket taker once again giving the breakthrough as and when he was given the ball by his Captain. Sehwag’s departure gave an opening for the English bowlers to sneak through and force a victory with 115 runs in the bag.
The bowling side kept on operating with the fiery Flintoff and the steady Swann as they needed the wicket of Yuvraj very badly. Yuvraj was well aware of that and along with MS Dhoni saw through the challenge and in the process got the required target down. But he fell in the 36th over when he had pulled a provocative short delivery from Flintoff to the fielder in the deep. It was the steely stares from Flintoff that had brought on the false shot from Yuvraj, who still played a lovely innings of 38 from 31 balls with 2 fours and a six. India were now at 177 for 5 in 36 overs and couldn’t afford anything silly from MS Dhoni and the rest of the batting as it a light failure was inevitable. MS Dhoni kept his wicket intact, although it asked him to play defensively in an innings of 29 from 51 balls. Yusuf Pathan, his new partner struck two vital boundaries in his stay which had brought the target down to just 43 from the last 10 overs. Bad light had the last laugh but India were more than safe at 198 for 5. Andrew Flintoff’s spirited fast bowling spell of 9-0-31-3 went in vain so did Stuart Broad’s 9-2-36-1. England should be proud of making the contest a bit tense in the afternoon and should fight hard in the remaining four games.
Harbhajan Singh was the Man of the Match for changing the complexion of the English innings. The two teams now travel south to Bengaluru to play a day night contest on the 23rd.