Dravid's captaincy was inspirational
Important pointers have emerged about the two sides after the first one-dayer in New Delhi. Luck does become a factor when a pitch is as terrible as the one at Kotla but results are only incidental. It's the mental make-up which is of greater significance.
England had no business to lose from the overwhelming comfort of 117 for 3, chasing 204 in the afternoon. They lost next six wickets for 25 runs and the final seven for 47 from 18-odd overs. The last pair came together in the 32nd over which was an absurd equation between required runs and the overs left with the last men standing. Juvenile is the first expression which comes to mind.
India, on the other hand, was battling overwhelming odds. They were fresh from the Mumbai mauling and were asked to bat first which they have patently sought to avoid in recent past. They didn't have Sachin Tendulkar or Anil Kumble and Virender Sehwag is in a reversal mode. They were 80 for 5 and yet the lower order resisted. The back-up heroes were neither from the top order nor terribly experienced.
In the afternoon, India kept finding its bowling and fielding saviours. The twin strike of Irfan Pathan -- this is the sixth time in the last 10 matches when he has struck either in his first or second over-- almost didn't matter as England recovered. But Rahul Dravid was inspirational as skipper and some of the catching was as sublime as it was ridiculously inept in Mumbai.
The irony is complete. England as a Test side keeps moving upwards while its stock in one-day cricket is slipping everyday. India is a side reborn in one-day cricket while in Tests, it's almost on a life-support system.
This was a pitch where England caught a glimpse of what it could have been in Tests and the ordeal they mercifully escaped. It was a pitch designed to be a bog for batsmen and high road for spinners. Ian Blackwell's success is a verdict in itself. The likes of Yuvraj Singh were difficult to put away while Harbhajan Singh was absolutely lethal.
I liked Dravid for the way he positioned his fielders around Andrew Flintoff's bat even when the colossal England captain was hell bent on blowing India away like a gale does to a ramshackle hut. Dravid gave a slip and a short-square leg to Harbhajan and introduced the second power play. Flintoff swept at two deliveries in vain and another, fuller and flatter, caught him plumb in front of stumps.
Five of England batsmen were out attempting a sweep or toying with the idea at a critical moment of decision, as was the case with Geraint Jones.
Clearly England think of it as a ploy to counter Indian spinners and upset the field. They were adequate with their defensive methods in Tests but in the fast-paced word of one-dayers, you need to score runs as well and hence the reliance on this method. They are still some way from leaving the crease to slow tweakers. It's a skill which can't be taught overnight.
India too appears to have a plan for England's tactics to bounce them with short-pitched deliveries. I sensed an attempt to hook in Sehwag's dismissal and Gautam Ghambir dispatched one high into the square-leg stands. Dravid too pulled two fours early on which suggested he was half expecting those deliveries.
England needed a sheet-anchor in batting. When you chase a short target, somebody needs to hold on to one end. It's one of the basics of game. I understand England doesn't want to be conservative or orthodox and wants to unravel the mysteries of one-day cricket with aggression and flair. But common sense could have served them better at Kotla.
A lot of youngsters are coming through in England ranks but vital positions remain unsettled. Experience is vital as Australia demonstrate so effectively every day of our collective cricketing lives.
As an argument you could say that India has begun to do well only once youngsters have came to the fore. But a lot of them are still very experienced -- I don't think you can call Yuvraj Singh or Mohammad Kaif as youngsters anymore. Harbhajan too is young but no greenhorn. Pathan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni have been regulars for over a year now.