India have leveled the 7-ODI Series 1-1 with a nine-run win in a high scoring entertainer at a small and tiny ground. The crowd got their money back with as many as 649 runs flowing along with the drama of 15 wickets going down. England were down and out at 240 for 7 in the 42nd over chasing a huge target of 330. The match was as good as over one thought but it wasn’t to be because of a surprise package in the form of Dimitri Mascarenhas. Striking five hits that sailed out of the ground, Mascarenhas with a 39-ball 52 went in vain but atleast kept everyone thrilled at the way the match was heading. The Indians believed that they were always in the game and they were right. Even though the victory margin of 9 runs does look close, the visitors were fine as long as they got the breaks at the right time.
Rahul Dravid won the toss once again and this time he opted to bat first on a hot and sunny day at the County Ground in Bristol. They were two changes in the Indian line-up with Gautam Gambhir and an unwell Zaheer Khan making way for Ramesh Powar and Munaf Patel. England strengthened their pace attack by including the tall Chris Tremlett but in the process sacrificed on variety by dropping Monty Panesar. Starting off cautiously, the opening pair of Ganguly and Tendulkar ensured that no wickets were lost in the first 10 overs although just the 39 runs came. India started to build the momentum when Chris Tremlett got introduced into the bowling attack. Sachin Tendulkar took the initiative and Ganguly followed and soon India smartly increased the tempo. In the last over of the fielding restrictions, Sourav Ganguly needlessly went for a big hit to be caught at point off Freddie Flintoff. Ganguly threw his wicket away after getting to 39 (from 54 balls with five fours and a six). India were off to a superb start with 113 on the board.
Yuvraj Singh got a promotion at no.3 and he started slowly but picked up on his scoring rate with some delightful shots off the slow medium pace of Mascarenhas and Collingwood. While Yuvraj was settling down, Tendulkar kept the momentum going in style by counter attacking England’s inexperienced bowlers. Just in the 32nd over, Sachin got himself close to his 42nd hundred. But his heart was broken when he got a snorter of a rising delivery from Freddie which he had gloved it in an ugly fashion down the legside for Prior. Tendulkar departed for 99! This was the second time that he had come so close but so far in registering a ton, the other time was recently at Belfast against South Africa. Today’s 99 from Tendulkar came in 112 balls with 15 fours and a six that was smashed straight over the bower – Chris Tremlett’s head.
At 180 for 2, Rahul Dravid walked in and never got bogged down with most of the bowling being on the pads for easy pickings. The Skipper dominated the 63-run stand with Yuvraj who like Tendulkar missed out on a milestone by just the one run. Yuve was out for 49 from 53 with 6 fours after his slashing drive was brilliantly held by Collingwood at point off Broad. The Indians just continued to pile up the partnerships which kept them on a good course to get well over 300. Dravid and Dhoni put on the fourth partnership in excess of 50 for the Indians that took them past the 300-run mark by the 48th over. Despite losing five wickets in the slog overs, India finished at 329 for 7, collecting 93 runs in the last ten. That was largely due to a sweet yet rapid 92 off 63 with 11 fours and a six from Rahul Dravid. Amidst all the smashing fours and sixes, Andrew Flintoff held his head with pride taking his first five-wicket haul, 5 for 56 to be precise. England had used as many as seven pace bowlers all in all!
A target of 330 was a real tester for Alastair Cook at the top of the order. But the youngster showed no panic and instead stroked his way brilliantly in the company of Matt prior. Ajit Agarkar in particular was taken to the cleaners. England raced away to 76 in just the 11th over before Prior (33 from 28 with 6 fours) threw his wicket away with a slog off Munaf. It was 76 for 1 after 10.5 only to become 76 for 2 after the next ball! Munaf removed Cook (36 from 41 with 8 fours) as well with the left hander feeling for the delivery that was slanting across his offstump to be caught behind. England started to rebuild after the double blow through a half century stand between Bell and Pietersen. But a magical straighter delivery from Piyush Chawla stunned Pietersen’s defence to bring India back in the game. KP fell after making a run-a-ball 25 with his side at 134 for 3 in the 22nd. Eight overs later, Piyush Chawla came up with yet another magical delivery, this time the googly that spun between the bat pad gap of Collingwood who had stepped down the track. Collingwood was looking dangerous with a breezy 25-ball 27 that had four hits. In the next over, England’s chances of winning the game looked very dim with Flintoff playing a senseless slog off Ramesh Powar in the seventh delivery off his innings and that too after getting himself two boundaries! A brief partnership followed after this between Bell and Bopara before the latter played across the line to be lbw to Munaf leaving England at 220 for 6 in the 38th. Any chances of England pulling off a contest were far from over when Ian Bell holed out to long on to give Piyush his third wicket! The two Indian spinners were the real stars with Powar taking 1 for 43 in 10 and Chawla being the striking force with 3 for 60 in his quota of overs.
The business wasn’t over as far as the match was concerned even if England were 240 for 7 with still 90 to win off 51 balls! Dimitri Mascarenhas coming in at no.8 decided that he was going to be the hero in the crisis situation. With three slog sweeps, he picked up three sixes out of the slow bowlers and then added up another two off RP Singh and Ajit Agarkar that were played in the ‘V’. Mascarenhas got to his maiden fifty in just 36 balls but it was just too much on him to take England to victory. He fell in the 49th over after miscuing a pull off RP Singh. The final over required 30 runs to win. Left hander Stuart Broad picked up two fours and two sixes to smack Munaf for 20 in the final over that got the victory margin down to nine runs. The Man of the Match was surprisingly given to Rahul Dravid instead of Sachin Tendulkar.