It was here in the nets at the Gabba a year and four days ago that Steven Finn couldn’t land the ball on the strip. He was fatigued and down on confidence. He was offered an early leave from what was a trying tour of Australia. He took the offer. In the match that followed, an England attack lacking a tall bowler helplessly saw James Faulkner pull of a heist with No. 11 for company.
A year and three days later, Finn announced his comeback to top-flight cricket with a maiden five-for that ripped apart India’s batting order after they had recovered from a shaky start. Finn’s charge turned 1 for 57 into 5 for 67, and 5 for 137 into 153, their lowest all-out score against England. That after India had decided to bat on a hard Gabba surface only to be undone by the extra bounce on the pitch. Ian Bell helped England chase the target down in 27.3 overs, claiming the crucial bonus point and a big net run rate boost.
India had to contend with inauspicious news just before the match. Their centurion from the MCG ODI, Rohit Sharma, had to pull out with a sore hamstring, which meant Ajnikya Rahane was required to fill in as opener again. It is, however, the other opener that has been India’s problem on this tour. Against a rejuvenated and accurate James Anderson, who was returning from injury himself, Shikhar Dhawan stood no chance. It only seemed a matter of time that Anderson would get one right and Dhawan would nick off. It happened the first time Anderson bowled to Dhawan. By the time Anderson finished the over in which Dhawan got out, his figures read 2-2-0-1.
Rahane and Ambati Rayudu – the replacement for Rohit – batted edgily but stayed together for 12 overs, adding 56 runs. They had seen off the threat of Anderson and scored well against Stuart Broad, who didn’t seem to be at his most intense. There were no easy runs on offer, though. The two had to repeatedly leave their crease to try to put the England bowlers off their lengths, but they succeeded too infrequently. When Rahane tried to do the same to Finn, the ball got too big, and the inevitable top edge appeared.
Virat Kohli, who for some reason has given up the No. 3 slot despite having been the best ODI No. 3 in the world, soon edged to the keeper, playing a nothing dab despite the presence of a slip. Finn’s extra bounce again did the trick. Kohli’s movement deep into the crease just before Finn had delivered hinted at desperation, at how difficult scoring runs had been.
Suresh Raina, who scored a half-century in Melbourne to rescue India, provided a reminder of how difficult India had found Moeen Ali in the English summer, walking past an offbreak. The movement out of the crease again came too early. Soon Rayudu, too, failed to handle Finn’s bounce as he looked to run one down to third man.
India had lost four wickets in the space of 27 deliveries, but MS Dhoni and Stuart Binny – playing in the place of R Ashwin – stalled the momentum with a 70-run partnership. Binny ended up with the top score of 44. Yet when India called for the Powerplay one over before the mandatory 36th over, they were staring at Finn and Anderson again. With the field coming in, the singles dried up, and Finn conceded just the one run in the 35th over. Anderson dropped a return offering from Dhoni first ball into his second spell but, conceding just a single, he ensured the pressure was on.
Finn came back to clean Dhoni up with a bouncer that was gloved to the keeper. Next ball he moved round the wicket to burst through the defence of Akshar Patel, who now has two ducks in two innings in Australia. Bhuvneshwar Kumar avoided the hat-trick, but couldn’t save the top of his off stump from Anderson in the next over. Two good catches – by Eoin Morgan running back from mid-off and by Moeen circling under a swirling ball at the edge of the midwicket boundary – ended the Indian innings in a hurry.
India’s innings ended so early England got six overs to bat before the supper break. It was time enough for Bell to get off to a fluent start even as Moeen fell to a slower ball from Binny, who opened the innings. The rest of the innings was all about Bell stylishly knocking off the runs and Binny getting an extended spell possibly as India’s endeavour to test him out now that the match was lost.
For some time it seemed Bell could get to a century even in the meagre chase, but it was too fanciful a thought. Bell finished with an unbeaten 88 off 91 balls, James Taylor got a third ODI fifty, and the match was over even before it got dark in Brisbane. After one round of matches, England sat second in the triangular with five points, behind Australia’s nine.