In the two previous outings, the wheels have come off the England cart at various stages in their innings; here, by contrast, the cart misplaced its wheels at the starting post itself.
Facing a mammoth chase on a less than ideal pitch with one of the prime strikers out through illness was always going to be difficult -- losing half the side inside 21 overs made it absolutely hopeless.
And yet again, it was Irfan Pathan who did the bulk of the damage, knocking over three wickets in an extended first spell of seven overs and ensuring that the chase never built up a decent head of steam.
The Indian bowlers sussed out the trick pretty early -- on this pitch, pace is the batsman's friend. So they took it right off the ball, with Pathan in particular dropping down the scale to such an extent he was in danger, at one point, of being reclassified an orthodox left arm spinner with a run up. The first of his slower deliveries came in the second over -- and out went Strauss, pushing at a delivery very close to off, seaming away a fraction as the bowler rolled his fingers over the seam, to force the edge through to the keeper (7/1).
England sent out Ian Blackwell to try and knock a bit off the target, but Pathan took him out in the 7th over of the innings with another intelligent piece of bowling. Blackwell has a tendency to huge wind ups; Sreeshanth had in the previous game used the slower ball on the stumps to defeat the intended slog. Here, Pathan borrowed a leaf from that book, went wide of the crease, angled a slower one onto the off stump and Blackwell was a lifetime too early into the shot, playing all over it to lose his off (27/2).
Munaf Patel, unlike Pathan, started off with pace, hitting the 142 mark in his first over and using the slower ball far more sparingly -- after being flicked through midwicket and cover driven for successive boundaries, he produced the first such and Matt Prior, again looking to flick off his pads, scooped it straight to Rahul Dravid at short midwicket only for the captain to put down the easiest of chances.
Pathan, meanwhile, produced another well directed slower delivery -- and Owais Shah's bottom-handed drive, well away from his body, merely flared the ball to Yuvraj Singh at point for a good low catch (24/3).
Harbhajan Singh's entry in the 15th over reduced the run-flow even further and, with pressure building, Matt Prior succumbed to one short single too many. A dab down to point saw the batsman charging down the track, only to be sent back by his captain by the time he got back, Yuvraj's pick up and throw to Dhoni caught him well out of his ground (78/4).
Andrew Flintoff was just about the only hope left, and a couple of good hits, including a stunning straight lofted drive off Agarkar promised much. Ramesh Powar, introduced in the 21st over, sealed the game for India when he tossed one up, taking the pace off the off break and inviting Flintoff to have a go. The batsman bit -- and slog-swept it straight down the throat of Sehwag at deep midwicket.
Flintoff, even as he hit the shot, slumped to one knee with head in hands, a commentary on both the shot and England's chances from there on.
The Indians, in reducing England to 83/5, had bowled with exemplary discipline, and outside of that dropped chance, backed the bowlers up in the field. England, however, contributed to its plight with the sort of batting that signaled the team had given up the chase even before it came out to begin it.
None of the batsmen looked to replicate the kind of partnership that Dravid and Pathan had stitched together -- on the slow side, but with the sort of controlled accumulation that created a platform for the lower order to mount an offensive from. Thus, India after 10 had got to 41/1; England made 44/2. After 15, it was 64/1 against 58/3; after 20 it was 90/1 against 83/4; after 25, India had made 122/2 against England's 100/5 and the game, by that point, was effectively over.
Harbhajan Singh, coming back for a second spell, was lofted back over his head by Vikram Solanki; in his next over, four dot balls built the pressure, the fifth was a looping delivery that invited the on drive but, thanks to the overspin, merely caused the batsman to hit it in the air for Yuvraj, now at midwicket, to run in and hold off his shoelaces (100/6).
Collingwood alone showed glimpses of what could have been, with an innings ideally tailored to the conditions. Using quick footwork and a good sense of where the gaps where, the all rounder played a busy knock, interspersing trademark nudges, dinky little chip shots and nurdles with clean hits especially through and over midwicket against both pace and spin (the standout shot a little shimmy down the track to pick a Pathan slower delivery and hoisting it effortlessly over the midwicket fence for six) -- and in the process showed that runs could be made, and at speed, even on this pitch; unfortunately for England, he was the only one to apply himself to the job.
India's strategy during this phase seemed a bit off; rather than shut the singles down and force the batsmen to take risks, Dravid spread the field to defend the boundaries and, in the process, opened up holes the batsmen exploited with calculated placements and committed running in sapping heat.
Largely thanks to Collingwood, and support from Geraint Jones who after a patchy start grew in assurance, England went into the death on 179/6 at the end of 40 (India 196/4), needing 116 off the next 60 deliveries.
Pathan, brought back for a second spell, almost managed to strike with yet another slower ball, when he had Collingwood miscuing a chip; the leading edge put the ball high in the air, but Ramesh Powar at deep midwicket misread the skier and made a meal of the chance.
An over later, another of those slower balls did the trick as Geraint Jones (32 off 43) aimed a heave over midwicket, played too early and ended up getting elevation sans distance, for Sehwag on the midwicket boundary to hold with deceptive ease (205/7).
Collingwood's inspirational knock came to an end as he tried to cope with an ask rate by then at the 14.5 rpo mark. Taking on Harbhajan Singh in the 46th over, the batsman danced down the track and lofted a chip into the outfield on (where else?) the on side; Suresh Raina from the deep midwicket position raced in to take a great outfield catch to a ball coming at him out of the setting sun. Collingwood, whose first 50 had taken 53 deliveries, had upped his rate towards the end, taking a further 43 off 31 deliveries (93 off 84 overall), but with no recognized batsman to share the load, was always battling against impossible odds.
In the 49th over, Agarkar got his reverse swinging yorkers going, knocking over both Liam Plunkett (18/29; 242/9) and Sadiq Mahmood to end England's resistance and seal the win by 49 runs.
England may have ended up on the losing side for the third time running, but the recovery from being 83/5 in 20.2 overs at the fall of Flintoff (and 100/6 in 25.5, when Solanki was out) to 245 all out in 48.5 overs must for the tourists have been heartening; keep in mind, here, that par for the second innings here is statistically just 176 and India was playing with five bowlers plus Yuvraj Singh in good bowling form.
Interestingly, both teams appear to be facing the same problem -- a rather shaky top order; India, thus far, has used the advantage of batting deeper, and having talented stroke makers in the middle to lower middle order. That one fact probably explains why England have been bowled out in each of their three innings till date -- and India have three straight wins to its name.