Victory eludes India yet again

Rahul Dravid walks up to Virat Kohli to congratulate him. Kohli came up with a masterly hundred. Dravid too played a solid innings in the final one-dayer of his career.-AP

India is down and out at the moment, its World Cup halo having diminished significantly, writes K.C. Vijaya Kumar.

Minutes before Alastair Cook and M. S. Dhoni were scheduled to address the media on a cold Friday night at the Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, the television in the conference hall beamed in Sky Sports' post-match coverage of the fifth and final match of the NatWest Series.

David Gower, Sir Ian Botham and Nasser Hussain were part of the panel and they had that sense of achievement and pride about what England, a team that they led in the past, had achieved — a 3-0 series triumph against India. The host had just defeated India by six wickets in the final one-day International of the five-match series.

The three former captains would have known how the Indian team's morale would be after the tour. They themselves had suffered at the hands of dominant West Indies and Australia at varying points. “India did not win a single international game on this tour and who would have thought about that in the first place?” asked Gower without malice but with a sense of ‘how-can-they?' air.

India is down and out at the moment, its World Cup halo having diminished significantly, but the way Gower, Botham and Hussain marched ahead in their own contrasting ways of grace, steely resolve and boisterous approach despite the hard knocks given by the West Indies or Australia, is also an illustration of that old saying: life goes on.

When you deal with a two-month tour littered with defeats — four Tests, lone Twenty20 and three one-dayers — while the rain just kept adding needless twists in every game, it is inevitable that philosophy seeps in. Dhoni, ever the pragmatic, would have none of it and just last week, he said: “If you are talking about the person sitting on top, well I have no complaints, we have had some good days in the past.”

If India dreamt about finally humbling England however belated the stage it was at the Sophia Gardens, that tenuous hope began to take shape once the team posted 304 for six in 50 overs. Rahul Dravid, playing his last ODI, and Virat Kohli, coping with growing-up pangs in cricket's higher plane, combined wonderfully well in a third-wicket partnership of 170 runs that proved to be the launch pad for Dhoni's muscular assault during the slog.

The trio's efforts — Kohli (107, 93b, 9x4, 1x6), Dravid (69, 79b, 4x4) and Dhoni (50 n.o., 26b, 5x4, 2x6) — bruised the host bowlers and at the dinner-break, England was staring at a stiff target. The weather gods, constant witnesses to India's recent frailties, then stepped in and two rain-interruptions meant that both the teams had to cope with the Duckworth-Lewis Method's fresh targets.

The initial signpost of 305 from 50 overs was revised to 195 from 47 overs and then to 241 from 34 overs. England, behind the required run-rate, for a large part, found a string of runs from its top six — Cook (50), Craig Kieswetter (21), Jonathan Trott (63, 60b, 3x4, 2x6), Ian Bell (26), Ravi Bopara (37 not out) and Jonathan Bairstow (41 not out, 21b, 1x4, 3x6) — and that effectively snuffed out India's chances. Debutant Bairstow played a blinder and fittingly won the ‘Man of the Match' award. England scored 241 for four in 32.2 overs.

“That was one big International statement, wasn't it? I don't want to heap pressure on him but the way he (Bairstow) played, the manner in which he stayed positive, was just so incredible. The mood in the dressing room was ‘we-have-a-player!',” gushed Cook later in the press conference while Bairstow sheepishly grinned. “I played my natural game,” the Yorkshire lad said and made it sound all so ridiculously easy.

Bairstow's effortless strikes down the ground ensured that England gathered a whopping 42 from its reduced batting Power Play of overs 29 to 31. Vinay Kumar, R. P. Singh and Kohli were all treated with disdain. Bairstow struck straight, reverse swept and his mighty hits just sailed high. Bopara, often sighted at practice sessions trying to scoop over fine-leg, finally expressed that skill against R. P. Singh and India were down and out.

The earlier blow was when a rampant Bell and Trott hammered Ravindra Jadeja for 21 runs in an over. And to make matters worse for Dhoni, Munaf Patel suffered an ankle injury and that restricted the skipper's bowling options. Talk about bad luck plaguing India even a day ahead of its return-flight back home!

Earlier, the Indian innings commenced well through Parthiv Patel and Ajinkya Rahane before a calm Dravid and an alert Kohli threaded their runs with finesse and fluidity. Kohli's sixth ODI hundred was built upon wristy runs flexed past mid-off and the inside-out drive over the off-side while Dravid added his assured touch before Graeme Swann slipped one through the gate and the legend walked away to profuse cheers.

Dhoni then added his might to the proceedings with flat-batted slaps and helicopter shots. The Indian skipper's consistency with the bat earned him the Man of the Series award and surely if given a choice, he would have traded that for that much-needed victory against England. Talk about life's ironies!

THE SCORES

India: Parthiv Patel c Bresnan b Swann 19, A. Rahane c Finn b Dernbach 26, R. Dravid b Swann 69, V. Kohli (hit wicket) b Swann 107, S. Raina c Bresnan b Finn 15, M. S. Dhoni (not out) 50, R. Jadeja c Bopara b Dernbach 0, R. Ashwin (not out) 0. Extras (b-1, lb-11, w-6): 18. Total (for six wkts., in 50 overs): 304.

Fall of wickets: 1-52, 2-57, 3-227, 4-236, 5-284, 6-288.

England bowling: Bresnan 9-0-62-0, Finn 10-1-44-1, Dernbach 10-0-73-2, Swann 9-0-34-3, Samit 8-0-55-0, Bopara 4-0-24-0.

England: A. Cook b Kohli 50, C. Kieswetter lbw b Vinay 21, J. Trott c R. P. Singh b Jadeja 63, I. Bell c (sub) Tiwary b R. P. Singh 26, R. Bopara (not out) 37, J. Bairstow (not out) 41. Extras (lb-1, w-1, nb-1): 3. Total (for four wkts., in 32.2 overs): 241.

Fall of wickets: 1-27, 2-106, 3-160, 4-166.

India bowling: Vinay Kumar 6.2-0-42-1, R. P. Singh 7-0-51-1, Munaf 4-0-26-0, Ashwin 4-0-25-0, Jadeja 5-0-52-1, Kohli 6-0-44-1.