By: Alan Gardner (ESPN cricinfo)
As India marched to one of their most comprehensive victories against England, a third no-contest in as many matches giving them the series, about the only similarity between the teams was the blue of their shirts. India, the reigning world champions in this format, will need little introduction as one of the favourites for the 2015 World Cup in six months’ time. England are struggling to find an XI to compete at home, let along challenge in Australia and New Zealand.
MS Dhoni has captained with an easy panache since the return to limited-overs cricket and he again marshalled an impressive display after inserting England on a fresh morning in Birmingham. This was Dhoni’s 91st victory as India ODI captain, breaking the record of Mohammad Azharuddin. Only one batsman had him momentarily ruffled, as Moeen Ali produced the first England half-century of the series, but it was a bit like a fart competing with thunder, to borrow Graham Gooch’s phrase.
Having been set a modest target, India’s batsmen set about exposing it as indecent. Ajinkya Rahane made his maiden ODI hundred during a stand of 183 with Shikhar Dhawan, a record opening partnership for India in England. Dhawan’s unbeaten 97 was his first fifty of the tour, a flurry of blows helping to end the contest with almost 20 overs remaining.
Although the pitch flattened out, England’s attack was made to look horribly blunt. India’s openers tip-toed through the first four overs, scoring the same number of runs, before Rahane struck four sumptuous fours off James Anderson; Dhawan rattled three more from Chris Woakes’ first over, taking them to 57 from ten. It was a clear case of the fours being with India.
And the sixes, too, both openers reaching their half-centuries by clearing the ropes. They hit four apiece, the most dismissive a front-foot pull from Rahane off Steven Finn. The sight of England’s fastest bowler being treated so disdainfully by India’s most diminutive batsman was one of a number of instructive passages. The video analysis will make painful viewing for Alastair Cook and Peter Moores.
If England were to take anything from their display, it would have been Moeen’s batting. Moeen was brought in for his fifth ODI to fill the allrounder slot, with England keen for a more thorough examination of his credentials as a limited-overs spinner ahead of the World Cup. He proceeded to bat with greater dash and security than any of his team-mates during an innings of 67 off 50 balls.
After Joe Root departed attempting a reverse sweep that might have made Mike Gatting wince to leave England five down, Moeen struck the ball with a languid intensity, hitting three sixes – the only sixes of the innings. Such was his dominance, albeit brief in the context of the match, that Moeen clouted 43 out of a 50-run stand with Jos Buttler, nominally England’s power hitter. His efforts lifted England to the bare respectability of 200 but the target scarcely gave much opportunity for his bowling to impress.
It was debatable whether India had found a new way to win or England a new way to lose. This time, the glissando of wickets came at the top and bottom of the innings, as England ended the Powerplay on 25 for 3 and then lost 4 for 12 in the final five overs. In between, India’s spinners largely remained a lurking threat, although the way R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Suresh Raina threw a blanket over the middle overs was proof that England had not suddenly discovered their pipe and slippers when it came to playing slow bowling.
Root has struggled to transfer his puckish energy into one-day cricket this summer but he at least did a job in repelling India’s early broadside during an 80-run stand with Eoin Morgan. The pair managed to see off ten overs of spin before Morgan, having narrowly flicked wide of leg slip, picked out Suresh Raina in that position for a simple catch to give Jadeja his 32nd wicket against England – a tally he would increase to 33 in 17 ODIs.
England’s approach tends to revolve around the proverbial best-laid plans but things went awry even before the toss, as they were forced to bring in Gary Ballance for Ian Bell, who was hit on the toe in the nets. Bell was later revealed to have a “small fracture” and will be assessed before the final ODI, at Headingley on Friday. That enforced change was the third from the XI at Trent Bridge, with Moeen and Harry Gurney also coming in for Ben Stokes and James Tredwell.
India, meanwhile, included the debutant Dhawal Kulkarni, who kissed the ball before his first delivery in international cricket, only to see it treated rather more roughly by Alex Hales spanking a half-volley for four. That was about as encouraging as it got, as England stumbled, bleary-eyed in the Birmingham sunshine.
India’s fielders were certainly in the wide awake club, Raina and Rahane setting a fine example as Cook managed just a single from his first 15 balls, repeatedly thwarted trying to hit through the off side. After opening partnerships of 54 and 82, England this time lost Cook and Hales in the fifth over, as Bhuvneshwar Kumar located the moisture in the pitch that his captain had spied at the toss. In the previous two matches, this had been the one area where India had allowed England some respite.
The breakthrough did not require any outstanding India out-cricket, however, as Bhuvneshwar snaked his first ball to Hales past the inside edge and on to the stumps. It was a femme fatale of a delivery, curving back in seductively and leaving Hales dumbstruck as he looked for his favoured cover drive. Bhuvneshwar had already bowled 12 deliveries at Cook without conceding a run and he gilded his figures further by picking up the England captain, Raina intercepting a thick-edged chop at gully to end another laboured stay at the crease.
After Dhoni’s travails in the Tests, both as captain and wicketkeeper, the extent of his comfort in limited-overs cricket was displayed by an instinctive, near run-out of Root, deflecting the ball with one glove down on to stumps behind him. Such was the hold he currently exerts over England, he could get away without asking Bhuvneshwar (8-3-14-2) to bowl a second spell. The batsmen then ran amok in approved style. It was fitting that such an assured display confirmed him as India’s most successful ODI captain.