As India's top five batsmen failed every time in the one-day series defeat against Pakistan, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was at pains stressing the importance of a steady opening partnership for the innings to kick on.
And the host batsmen were presented with a perfect opportunity to
redeem themselves on a batsmen-friendly pitch at the new Saurashtra Cricket Association stadium in the first one-dayer against England on Friday. Openers Gautam Gambhir and Ajinkya Rahane gave a solid start for a change after England amassed 325 for four that left the hosts needing to equal their second best score in a successful chase - 326/8 made in the 2002 NatWest final at Lord's against England - to slay their batting demons.
But Dhoni has also agonised that at least one of the set batsmen should go on and get a big score. In the end, the hosts had left things half done, losing by nine runs as England fought back superbly to end a 13-match losing streak in India going back to 2006.
WORK TO DO
Local batsman Cheteshwar Pujara, in the form of his life but left to wait for his ODI debut, watched from the dressing room as his team mates failed to meet the crying need for an innings anchor. And England, though flair is not their strong suit and the man with that word tattooed on him — Kevin Pietersen — was scratchy in his first ODI for a year, still did what comes naturally, planning and execution. The final margin was nine runs but the visitors sealed the deal before that.
For Gambhir, the butterflies were still evident as he swished outside off-stump a few times. Still he and Rahane were doing a competent job until Cook denied the pace they were feeding off, introducing the off-spin of James Tredwell and debutant Joe Root. Rahane holed out to long off and Gambhir flicked to midwicket to give Tredwell's first two wickets.
Indian spinners did not threaten in the afternoon, but Tredwell, like Saeed Ajmal with a fiver in the previous ODI against Pakistan, exposed the weakness in the Indian ranks. He varied the pace superbly to prey on the batsmen's desperation to score, finishing with four wickets and the man-of-the-match award.
Yuvraj was the hero India last time chased 326. For a while the left-hander exploded, sweeping viciously. But England's ploy of bowling a tad short to a leg stump line curbed the scoring angles, and Yuvi finally turned Tredwell into short fine leg's hands.
That left Dhoni and Raina in a dilemma, whether to give the charge during the powerplay overs or wait, only for both to fall once that phase was over. The in-form skipper hit four huge sixes but was foxed by a Dernbach slower one. With two new balls used, Cook knows the technique he adopted in the Tests is sound enough to build the innings. His 75 and the 158-run opening partnership with Ian Bell set the tone.
Indian bowlers kept the scoring to just under six till the final overs. Ashok Dinda, picked ahead of rookie Shami Ahmed, removed KP and Eoin Morgan. But Ishant Sharma wasted his good earlier spells to allow Samit Patel and Craig Kieswetter take 33 runs off his last two overs, the 64 runs from the final five proving decisive.