When confidence is low, and you feel under the hammer, nothing works.
Sententious? Ask Virender Sehwag.
The off form opener did little wrong today; much of what he did in fact showed shades of the old Sehwag. The fours he hit -- characteristic whips off the pads, a thunderous pick up off Hoggard through long on, a couple of delicate glides to third man -- were typically aggressive, but the most interesting shot of his brief innings was when he swayed away to a Flintoff lifter outside off and upper cut it down to third man.
It is this shot he appeared to have misplaced throughout this tour, and that has left him vulnerable to the short stuff. Here, he played a horrendous swat at the first shot ball he got, fetching it from outside off and putting it tantalizingly up in the air between square leg and midwicket -- but after that narrow escape, and an extended talking-to by his captain, appeared to have steadied himself and, as his innings progressed, was back to hitting the ball in something approaching mid-season form.
So, of course, he had for the second successive game to find the silliest way to get out; to the same bowler what's more. Ian Blackwell was introduced as early as the 11th over; an indicator of how comfortably both openers handled the England seamers. Ball four of his first over was a rank long hop -- and Sehwag managed only to heave it straight down the throat of midwicket (26/34; 54/1).
In the previous game, Dravid's focus had been on keeping his end up; here, with better batting conditions underfoot, he moved up the gears with stiletto-sharp strokes to both pace and spin. On drives, square cuts/drives and whips off his pads are his bankable shots, but here he uncorked a couple of fluid hooks, to fine leg off Hoggard and in front of square to Anderson.
He also found time to give England a quick lesson on sweeping on a pitch with bounce and turn -- when he played the shot here, he refrained from going down on his knees, settling for a little knee bend but staying high enough to counter any sudden bounce, and still hitting the shot flat, hard, and with enough control to place it exactly where he wanted.
On a pitch where spinners could square dance once the ball got older, runs had to be made at the top -- and Dravid, with Pathan for company, made a good fist of it. Without the theatricality of the Pietersen assault, India kept comfortably in touch with the ask through the first half of its innings -- 52/0 in 10 against England's 59/2; 102/1 after 20 against 109/2; 133/2 after 30 against 129/3
It shaped like a walk in the park until Flintoff, as Dravid had in the England innings, took the long-delayed power play. That was with Anderson in over number 27 -- and to the first ball of that over, Dravid uncharacteristically danced a long way down the wicket, to loft the bowler back over his head; he then stayed back and when the bowler predictably shortened his length next ball, square cut him for four.
Just when you thought the in-form batsman was about to make England pay for holding back its power play, a lapse in concentration triggered a soft dismissal. To a ball from Flintoff in the next over not full enough to drive, Dravid reached a long way forward to try and clear the infield, but managed only to scoop it to mid off for the easiest of takes (65/72; 130/2).
Pathan had a slice of look when his innings was still in its teens. Mathew Prior, keeping in place of Geraint Jones, stood up to Hoggard and clung on reflexively as a slashing square cut found a thin touch on the toe of the bat; the umpire apparently didn't pick up the nick, and Pathan stood his ground.
That blemish apart, he batted in the fashion of an authentic number two, mixing his favored cover and square drives with some clean straight hitting. One such shot came in the 28th over, when he shimmied down the track to Blackwell and hit him back over his head to the straight fence -- a shot intended to take advantage of the power play. To the very next ball, he danced down again; Blackwell read the intent, dragged the ball wide and bowled it quick to beat the flailing bat, and Prior pulled off the stumping (46/56; 152/3).
Mohammad Kaif was promoted ahead of Yuvraj, the only explanation being it was a show of confidence from the team management. The batsman however was clearly batting out of his current weight at that position; his nightmare run continued when he reached a long way forward to try and carve Flintoff over covers, only for Anderson to jump high and pull off a superb one handed take at full stretch (5/13; 152/4).
If those wickets opened the door just a fraction for England, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina promptly slammed it shut, taking time and care to settle down and get a feel for what the pitch was doing for seamers and spinners, before easing into another match-winning effort.
All England got was a half-chance. In the 38th over, Yuvraj mistimed a drive at an angling delivery from Anderson; the outer edge flashed inches past the diving Prior and to the third man boundary. Even that chance, though, was sandwiched by a flicked straight drive, and a power-packed cover drive, off the bowler in that over as Yuvraj moved up through the gears while Raina settled down to watch the fun, chipping in with deft placements and the occasional hard hit.
The two had kept their heads down in the 72-run partnership that all but sealed the win for the team, but on the threshold of the target, both fell in the 44th over to an overdose of exuberance. Raina attempted to hoist Anderson back over his head and only managed to sky it to mid on; the crowd, large sections of which had for the duration of play been holding up Dhoni posters, got to cheer their latest icon onto the ground. Before the cheers had died down Yuvraj, who had crossed while the Raina hit was in the air, drove at an angled delivery from Anderson, looking for the booming drive he had played with a touch of insolence in the previous over but managing only to touch through to Prior ((48/53; 224/6).
By then, it was a doddle for Dhoni and Powar, who took the team home through gently tapped singles, seemingly in no particular rush to get past the post.
Despite taking the foot off the pedal, India won with The margin of the series-stealing victory -- 4 wickets; 16 deliveries to spare -- indicated both the form the Indian one day team is in at the moment, and the fact that England did itself a disservice with some thoughtless cricket in the middle overs, that resulted in a total well short of what it needed to challenge this side.