Talk of stop-start games -- here's the daddy of them all.
The first five overs of India's [ Images ] chase of 227 produced 32 runs; the first ten produced 53/0.
It was a period characterized by some fine hitting -- creamy cover drives from Gautam Gambhir [ Images ], crackling square cuts and square drives from Virender Sehwag [ Images ]; the real key to it though was intelligent strike rotation through tip and run tactics that took the pressure off two openers seeking their one big breakout knock, and transferred it to the bowlers and fielders.
The first ten overs thus had 13 singles and one two, to go with seven boundaries; the batting tactics and consequent pressure created seven wides from the bowlers.
And then Sehwag -- who, on a pitch where you couldn't get throat high bounce with a trampoline, got the range and timing back on his shots -- fell, getting cute with Ian Blackwell's over the wicket line into the rough. Looking to paddle very fine to beat short fine leg, the batsman ended up guiding the ball onto his leg stump (21/45; 61/1 in 13.2).
The overs between 11-15 produced just 11 runs, for the loss of Sehwag; between 16-25, India added 32 runs for the loss of four top order wickets.
The single reason why? Superbly disciplined bowling from England [ Images ] led by Flintoff himself; tight, thoughtful field setting tailored to the batsman on strike -- and a paralysis of intent, that saw batsmen becoming completely becalmed, and seemingly unable to spot a single with a seeing eye dog.
That sort of stalemate produces pressure for the batting side, and here that pressure translated into some bizarre dismissals. Gambhir, yet again, went in, got in, and got to where he was looking good when he invented a new way of getting out. To a short ball from Anderson, the southpaw was neither forward nor back, and from that indeterminate position played a cross bat parody of a pull, with body and arms disconnected from the shot; all he managed was to put the ball high in the air for the bowler to pocket.
For Rahul Dravid, Flintoff set a field calculated to cut off the whips and flicks off the pads, and had his bowlers focus on a line onto off and middle. Dravid kept driving and flicking, picking out the fielders with laser precision -- and the more unproductive shots he played, the more fidgety he got.
With just five runs to show from 23 balls faced, the Indian captain flicked one towards fine leg; Geraint Jones anticipated superbly, dived, stopped, and threw at the stumps. Dravid was well in -- but as the ball ricocheted, the batsman made a feint down the wicket as if seeking for a run, and was blindsided when Collingwood raced up from point, behind his back, picked up the ball and ran headlong into the stumps with Dravid out of his ground (3/72).
On a wicket where even the new ball banged in short wasn't rising to chest height, Mohammad Kaif from a static position played a pull at a Liam Plunkett delivery; the ball didn't rise, the bat flailed over the line and Kaif was nailed bang in front of off and middle (4/80).
Yuvraj Singh alone of the batsmen till that point had looked in imperious form. Two imperious pulls off Anderson preceded Kaif's dismissal; when Kabir Ali replaced Anderson in the next over, Yuvraj greeted him with a scorching straight drive, and followed it up with a whip off his pads for successive boundaries.
Just when you thought the batsman was back in the sort of form he showed in Pakistan, Flintoff in a smart piece of captaincy took the pace bowlers off and brought Ian Blackwell on; Yuvraj stepped a long way to leg to the first ball from the spinner, tried to cut off his off stump, and managed only to chop it on (Yuvraj 18/20; India 92/5).
And then Suresh Raina [ Images ] and Mahendra Singh Dhoni [ Images ] got together to show how it was done. They rode out the patches where the bowlers hit tight lines, they ran brilliantly between wickets, time and again converting singles into twos, and paced their innings with remarkable discipline.
Heading into the death, the two had reduced the ask to 65 off 60 with five wickets in hand. At the end of 40 overs, Raina in his knock of 46/62 had 22 singles and 4 twos; Dhoni, playing second fiddle, had 15 singles and three twos and, remarkably for him, not a single boundary in a score of 21/40.
The bowling didn't lose its discipline between overs 25-40, when these two added 66 -- it was just mature, thoughtful batting that drove the bowlers nuts and ran the fielders ragged. And it was what the earlier batsmen had so spectacularly failed to do.
From then on, it was a mix of the calculated and the cheeky: a reverse paddle by Dhoni off Blackwell in the 41st over, a hop right back onto his stumps to shorten Collingwood's length and conjure a pull into the less tenanted on side, a dance by Raina down the wicket to loft Blackwell's first ball of the 44th over high into the stands over long on by the 44th over, the two had reduced the ask to 34 off 36, and brought up their 100 partnership off 118 (Raina 60 off 69; Dhoni the watchful junior partner, with 35/50).
Having done the hard yards, Raina timed his change up in gears to perfection and in one burst, put the issue beyond doubt in the 45th. Kabir Ali's first ball was savagely square driven through the packed off field; the next ball was greeted with a Doug Marillier-style ramp shot over the head of the keeper to fine leg; the distressed bowler wided the next ball; the rebowled delivery was square cut for yet another four
By the end of that one over, the ask was 19 from 30 and the game was effectively done and dusted.
Through it all, as he has done once before, Dhoni kept jogging down the track to keep his partner's adrenalin in check; showing great temperament, he never tried to match Raina's big hitting, but kept himself in check and focused on keeping his end in play. His dismissal, dragging a wide one from Flintoff onto his stumps (38 off 55, 210/6) in no way lessened the value of his contribution to a 118-run partnership at 5.5, that hauled India from a seemingly hopeless position and to the threshold of yet another win batting second.
Despite the loss of his partner, Raina, batting way beyond his teen age, kept his head down and took the game home with calculated singles and twos, eschewing the temptation to finish it off with a big hit or three -- and when Irfan Pathan [ Images ] clipped Anderson over mid on to finish it off, was batting on a knock of 81/90 that signaled the coming of age of a talented youngster.
In marked contrast to the Test team, there is about this one day side a self-belief that is almost palpable; and it stems from a lineup that appears to have an array of match-winners, any one of whom seems able, on the day, to put his hand up and take it home.