Kolkata: England finished a tough tour of India on an upbeat note, as they preserved their world No. 1 ranking in Twenty20 cricket with a hard-earned six-wicket victory in Kolkata. Steven Finn, with 3 for 22 in four fast and accurate overs, was England's inspiration with the ball as they limited India's powerful line-up to 120 for 9 after MS Dhoni had won the toss. Then it was over to Kevin Pietersen, who overcame an anxious start, and a fourth-ball life, to silence a raucous and expectant crowd with a blistering 53 from 39 balls.
Given how poorly England had fared in their 5-0 whitewash in the ODI series, they began the match on a hiding to nothing. However, from the moment they claimed two wickets in the first eight deliveries of the match, they were the team dictating the pace of the contest. Suresh Raina, with 39 from 29 balls, threatened for a time to restore the status quo, as did the Indian spinners who dominated the thrust of their attack. But when Raina dropped Pietersen at backward square leg off R Ashwin in the fifth over of the innings, India squandered the chance to ramp up the pressure that had led to England's collapse of 10 for 47 on the same surface in Tuesday's fifth ODI.
Pietersen's response was far from instantaneous, however. Although he showed no ill-effects from the chipped thumb that ruled him out of the final ODI, the left-arm spin of Ravindra Jadeja helped to limit him to 2 from his first nine balls before a stunning change of approach reaped the richest of dividends. In the space of his next three balls, he dropped to his knees to scoop Yusuf Pathan over his head for his first boundary of the innings, before flipping to a left-hander's stance and butchering a perfect switch hit over the fence at what had been deep extra cover.
Craig Kieswetter had already fallen to a mistimed lofted drive off Jadeja, and when Alex Hales holed out to deep midwicket off Pathan, both of England's openers had fallen with 40 runs on the board. However, Samit Patel's combative hitting proved to be the ideal foil for Pietersen, and their 60-run stand from 46 balls broke the back of the run-chase. Patel played second-fiddle for much of their stand, not least when Pietersen pumped the last two balls of the eighth and nine overs for three fours and a six. But he was not averse to taking the aerial route himself, as he proved when he flogged Vinay Kumar into the stands at long-on.
Typically, the denouement was not without its alarms for England. With 100 on the board, Patel sliced Virat Kohli to cover to depart for 21, and one over later, Pietersen was also on his way - courtesy of a shocking lbw decision from umpire Sudhir Asnani, who was perhaps distracted by another change of stance from Pietersen when he put up his finger for a delivery that clearly pitched outside leg. However, Ravi Bopara got away with a plumb appeal in Raina's next over, as he and Jonny Bairstow sealed the match with 8 balls to spare.
If nothing else, the victory - England's first in any limited-overs match in India since 2002 - was due reward for an outstanding month's work from Finn. By trusting in the same virtues of line, length and pace that had earned him eight wickets in the ODIs, he claimed the wicket of Ajinkya Rahane with the fourth ball of the match, courtesy of an outstanding one-handed pluck in front of first slip from Kieswetter, then later returned to remove two dangermen, Raina and Ravindra Jadeja, with consecutive deliveries.
Finn conceded three boundaries in his 24 deliveries, one to Virat Kohli when he overpitched in his first over, and two to Raina - a clean swipe for six, back down the ground, and a rare poor delivery on the pads when he returned to the attack to start the 12th over. The rest of the time, however, his rhythm and accuracy was unrelenting, and it was his key extraction of Raina, who cut loosely to backward point in Finn's third over that was the pivotal moment of the innings. One ball later, Jadeja chopped on for a golden duck, and at 74 for 6 with eight overs remaining, India's habitual acceleration was thwarted.
It wasn't a one-man show from England's bowlers, however. Tim Bresnan bounced back from a disappointing ODI series with a second-ball strike to remove Robin Uthappa for 1, and also cut short a threatening performance from Kohli, who had moved along to a run-a-ball 15 when Alex Hales on the deep midwicket boundary pulled off an excellent running catch inches inside the rope.
Graeme Swann's struggles with the ball continued when Raina pumped him for 16 in his first over, but his captaincy was certainly on the ball. Patel fizzed through his first three overs for 13 and bowled a frustrated Manoj Tiwary when he attempted to slog his way out of a rut, while Bopara pulled off some impressive changes of pace to deliver a double-wicket maiden in the 17th over of the innings. Yusuf Pathan missed the change-up after two slower balls and was bowled; two balls later Praveen Kumar had a mow and went the same way.
MS Dhoni, inevitably, was on hand to provide some late resistance as he and Ashwin scalped 25 runs from India's final two overs, but a run-a-ball chase was always within England's grasp - even allowing for the depth of their failings on this most disappointing of one-day campaigns.