A Cook & Bell story

Alastair Cook and Ian Bell (below)... maiden hundreds.-AP Alastair Cook and Ian Bell (below)... maiden hundreds.

England batted big, two of the top three batsmen made hundreds, and then James Anderson struck telling early blows, including the key wickets of Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh, to swing the match in the host’s favour. S. Dinakarreports.

Sometimes, it’s not such a good thing to get lucky with the toss. Ask Rahul Dravid.

The Indian captain got the spin of the coin right at the Rose Bowl under dense, dark clouds. He backed his pacemen to strike early in these conditions. Then his batsmen could chase down the runs under the lights.

Sometimes, simple plans can go wrong.

The Indian pacemen failed to achieve notable swing. The best of the bowlers, left-arm pacemen Zaheer Khan and Rudra Pratap Singh, were at best steady. The rest were expensive.

The Indian batsmen floundered in the evening when there was a little nip in the surface for the pacemen because of the dew. Before long, the first ODI of the seven-match NatWest series was over as a contest.

When the dust settled, India’s 184 was way short of England’s 288 for two. Sometimes, it can be a good thing to lose the toss. Paul Collingwood, the England captain, admitted that there was a 50-50 chance of him opting to field had he got lucky with the spin of the coin.

The English bowlers might have used the heavy atmosphere better, there was little in the pitch though. But the England batting under the lights, the pitch gradually turned slower after the early phase when the ball skidded around, too could have got caught out.

Collingwood later said with a hint of pride, it was “a kind of perfect day for England.”

England batted big, two of the top three batsmen made hundreds, and then James Anderson struck telling early blows, including the key wickets of Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh, to swing the match in the host’s favour.

This was a match where Andrew Flintoff returned to big time cricket after four months, to a huge roar from a colourful crowd at a picturesque venue, and bowled with great heart and passion, but it was swinger Anderson who stole the thunder.

In the afternoon, left-handed opener Alastair Cook’s innings building skills came to the fore during a 124-ball 102, an effort where some crisp off-drives complemented his strong on-side play.

Temperament is Cook’s greatest ally and he does keep silencing the doubters. He only played a handful of domestic one-day matches for Essex last season but the English selectors and the think-tank believe Cook should be backed in all forms of the game. His maiden ODI hundred could not have arrived at a better time.

Player of the Match Ian Bell carved a brilliant 118-ball unbeaten 126, an innings of decisive footwork, and a wide range of strokes. Bell is a talented batsman with a keen eye, sound footwork and the ability to drill holes in the field.

He has had his moments in the ODI arena but never got to a hundred. At the Rose Bowl, he powered along, cutting, driving, pulling, lofting. Bell does pick the length quickly.

James Anderson (middle) is congratulated by team-mates for his superb bowling.-

The left-right association bothered the Indian bowlers. They could not switch their lines effectively enough. The difference in the heights of the two batsmen meant the bowlers had to alter their lengths as well. They were found wanting.

England had received a reasonable start with Cook, who batted through a phase when he could not find the gaps, and Matthew Prior adding 43 in just under 11 overs.

Then Bell arrived with his positive, strokeful ways and the innings changed gears. Bell’s shots, on both sides of the wicket, left the Indian attack unsettled, and, this actually helped Cook as well. No. 3 is a pivotal slot and Bell promises to fill this position with distinction.

The 178-run stand for the second wicket in 185 balls was a partnership of sound cricketing sense and shots. It is possible to gather runs at a good clip in the ODIs without resorting to crude means.

The duo also ran brilliantly between the wickets, pushing and stretching the Indian fielding, which wilted. Although Kevin Pietersen provided the innings a late flourish, England should have gathered at least 20 more runs with all those wickets in hand.

A consistently mean batting machine like Australia could have made the host pay for not scoring more than 78 runs in the last 10 overs. The Indian response was a horror story. Sourav Ganguly ran himself out, Tendulkar could not keep a flick down, and Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj played away from the body. Mahendra Singh Dhoni got hopelessly bogged down — the dasher made 19 off 60 balls — before being targeted and prised out by a lifting delivery from Flintoff.

The presence of Flintoff lifted England on the field. The side came in with aggression and, in several senses, hustled India. This was a very different England team.

Dravid and Dinesh Karthik offered some resistance, but there was going to be no stopping Collingwood’s men on this night.

India needs a dramatic improvement in several departments, the running between the wickets not the least among them.

How quickly things can change in sports!

NatWest Series, First ODI, Southampton, August 21, 2007. England won by 104 runs.

THE SCORES

England: A. Cook b R. P. Singh 102; M. Prior c Dravid b Zaheer 19; I. Bell (not out) 126; K. Pietersen (not out) 33; Extras (lb-4, w-4) 8. Total (for two wkts., in 50 overs) 288.

Fall of wickets: 1-43, 2-221.

India bowling: Zaheer 10-1-49-1; Agarkar 10-1-65-0; R. P. Singh 10-0-49-1; Ganguly 4-0-21-0; Chawla 7-0-42-0; Tendulkar 4-0-29-0; Yuvraj 5-0-29-0.

India: S. Ganguly (run out) 2; S. Tendulkar c Bopara b Anderson 17; G. Gambhir c Prior b Anderson 3; R. Dravid c Prior b Mascarenhas 46; Yuvraj Singh c Cook b Anderson 0; M. Dhoni c Prior b Flintoff 19; D. Karthik (not out) 44; A. Agar kar (run out) 11; Piyush Chawla (run out) 2; Zaheer Khan b Anderson 20; R. P. Singh b Panesar 0; Extras (lb-10, w-5, nb-5) 20. Total (in 50 overs) 184.

Fall of wickets: 1-15, 2-19, 3-34, 4-34, 5-102, 6-105, 7-129, 8-145, 9-183.

England bowling: Broad 8-1-27-0; Anderson 10-2-23-4; Flintoff 7-0-12-1; Mascarenhas 10-1-28-1; Panesar 10-0-47-1; Collingwood 5-0-37-0.