The chase -- extending India's [ Images ] record chasing streak to 16 and counting -- was remarkable only in its inevitability.
So great is the self-belief now, so sure is the team about its component parts, that it could shed Sehwag, Dhoni [ Images ], and Kaif in addition to the absent Tendulkar -- and hunt down 289 without ever looking remotely troubled.
That part of the story is best told in the comparison statistics: India after 5 overs had reached 27/0 (England [ Images ] 12/0); after 10 it was 58/0 (England 43/1); 77/0 after 15 (59/2); 110/0 in 20 (112/3); 143/0 in 25 (142/3); 168/2 in 30 (160/3); 197/2 in 35 (177/4); 221/2 in 40 (205/4) .
The extra 16 runs at the 40 over mark would always prove the key; England had smashed 55 runs in the overs between 41-45, India thanks to being ahead did not need to take risks to catch up. As witness India 253/2 after 45, against England's 256/4. It was from here that England's wheels had come off -- six wickets falling in the final five overs; thus, the chase was really done and dusted right there, and merely needed to be brought home.
In some previous avatar, Rahul Dravid [ Images ] must have helmed teams of oxen across the great plains -- a genetic memory of that sort is the only way you can account for his wristwork on the whip off his legs, that punctures the field anywhere from fine leg to widish long on.
With a presumably nervous debutant as his partner, Dravid eschewed his more normal, calculated style of play and opened out in a flurry of shots that saw him cruise through his 30s at better than a run a ball, and get to his 70th Test 50 off just 56 deliveries.
At the other end, Robin Uthappa [ Images ] got his first international runs off the third ball he faced, with a flick to fine leg; the next ball was flick-driven through long on for the follow up boundary.
The early stages of his innings was not as fluent as that start promised. Uthappa appears, on the evidence thus far, to be a pre-determined front foot player; his initial movement is to thrust the front foot out and across to off or outside which is fine when flicking, driving and even cutting -- but it does tend to cramp his style when the ball is pitched that fraction shorter, and lifts into him.
The first few overs, with the new ball bouncing on a hard pitch, thus saw a few awkward fends; that said, he never got himself into the sort of tangle that has been Virender Sehwag's [ Images ] undoing in recent outings.
That said, the youngster showed sufficient skill to ride out the rough patch. Like most of the young lads coming through these days, Uthappa has a highly developed sense for the quick single -- and he used it to get away from the danger end while his captain played pacemaker for the chase.
Once he found his sea legs, though, Uthappa lived up to his billing -- those who have seen him play describe him as a busy, bustling player who loves playing his shots. And here, on the day, he played them all with an insouciance that mocked his inexperience. Kicking off this second phase of his knock with a furious hook off James Anderson [ Images ] for a six that put the ball onto the shamiana above the stands, the youngster opened out in a flurry of drives, pulls, cuts, chips and flicks that indicate his promise.
Uthappa brought up his 50 off 69 deliveries, and promptly moved up the gears. The 22nd over of the innings produced, beside that hooked six, an open-faced glide to third man and a silken on drive that had Anderson kicking the turf in frustration; when Blackwell was brought on to try and slow things down, Uthappa stepped away to leg to slam through point, then danced down the track to drive inside out over extra cover
He loves to play his shots, this lad; and in a style reminiscent of Dhoni, hits very very straight and very very hard.
The manner of his dismissal, when a debut century seemed his for the taking, was unfortunate. A fierce straight drive off Blackwell was stopped superbly by a diving Anderson behind the bowler's back; Uthappa, who had just prior to that over collapsed with cramp, walked the last part of the second run, seemingly believing the throw wouldn't come to the batsman's end anyway. It did -- and when Geraint Jones collected and broke the stumps, Uthappa was run out when he could, by the simple expedient of grounding his bat, have been well in.
That ended a 166-run opening partnership that broke a prolonged drought. Uthappa was out for 86 off 96 (12 fours and one six); at the time, Dravid was batting 68/78 (9 fours). The two had between them run 55 singles and brought the team to within 123 runs of the total, with 8 wickets and 20.5 overs remaining.
Dravid went, to the first ball he faced after Uthappa's dismissal -- looking to flick a reverse swinging delivery from Sajid Mahmood, Dravid went too far across to off, fell away, and was pinned in front of middle.
That merely brought to the middle two young left-handers in the form of their lives.
There's something to be said for rhythm -- for fighting to get it, and hanging on for dear life when you have nailed the beast. Both batsmen had, in the previous outing, taken things a bit casually, and paid a price. Here, both initially struggled; the odd well timed hit was interspersed with shots that took the ball to areas undreamt of by the batsman.
What they have going for them, though, is a 'been there done that' calm, which here helped them ride out the rough without ever falling too far short of the ask (the 50 of their partnership took just 56 deliveries).
What the confidence of handling similar tasks in the past does for two players performing in tandem is illustrated by this -- at the 45 over mark, the partnership had produced 92 runs; there were just seven fours in there, against 41 singles and 7 fours. Neither batsmen looked for the big, target-reducing hits; they kept knocking the ball around, keeping the board ticking and the target in sight with wickets in hand hallmarks of a competent, confident chase.
Once they had gotten within touching distance, Raina -- as he invariably tends to do -- broke the game open in the 46th over, with an easy stride out to Sajid Mahmood to take the ball from off and loft high into the stands over wide midwicket. The ask before that shot was 32 off 26; with one shot, the equation was down to a manageable 26/25 with eight wickets in hand.
A flicked four that further reduced the target got Yuvraj to yet another 50 (53/50). An over late, Raina's attempted heave off Kabir Ali was foiled by the slower one; with eight to win off 9, the teen southpaw left with a fine 53 (64 balls) to his name ending a partnership of 115 at just a fraction under six an over.
4 were needed off six; as it turned out, Yuvraj finished it off with five balls left, to seal the series 5-1 and maintain the team's hot ODI streak.