Mohali: As a contest, there was very little this game didn't have - sublime batting from a completely unexpected quarter, a slew of mistakes from players and umpires alike, and a professional run chase completed in some style by one of India's more consistent limited-overs performers.
Rohit Sharma, summoned from the blue for Ajinkya Rahane and asked to open the batting for only the fourth time in One-Day International cricket, produced perhaps the most important innings of his career so far, and Suresh Raina stayed on till the end to make sure India won the five-match series against England with a game to spare. (Scorecard)
Their comfortable five-wicket victory, achieved with 15 deliveries left in the fourth game at the PCA Stadium in Mohali on Wednesday (January 23) night, gave India an unbeatable 3-1 lead going into the final game in Dharamsala on January 27.
England had ridden on half-centuries of contrasting hues from Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Joe Root to amass 100 in the last ten overs and give themselves a fighting chance with 257 for seven on the board after being put in by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, his right thumb heavily strapped following the injury he sustained during practice on match eve.
Rohit, all class and elegance during his prolonged stint at the crease that was cut short by a dubious leg before call from Steve Davis, propelled the Indian chase with a majestic 83 and Raina translated his third successive half-century of the series into an unbeaten 89.
England had only Steve Finn's enterprise to rely on. They were otherwise let down by their bowlers apart from James Tredwell, who continued to impress until Rohit got stuck into him with a sensational assault soon after he completed his first half-century in seven innings.
India lost Gautam Gambhir to another poor decision from umpire Davis, while Virat Kohli threw away a good start with a lazy stroke and Yuvraj Singh never looked comfortable. At 90 for three, the game was in the balance but Rohit and Raina swung it India's way with a stand of 68 marked by exceptional strokeplay.
Dhoni and Raina all but sealed the issue though the captain fell with a tantalising 45 needed, smashing a long hop from Jade Dernbach straight down point's throat. Ravindra Jadeja kept Raina good company as India thrilled a full house with a competent chase of a tricky total on a surface that kept the bowlers interested throughout.
England might point to Raina being reprieved when he was caught at slip off Finn off the first ball of the batting Power Play - Raina was 41 out of 178 for four at the start of the 36th over - but in the end, they have only themselves, and Finn, to blame for not making sure the bowler doesn't continue to knock the bails over at the time of delivery.
Until Root arrived in a blaze of strokeplay and made the most of being dropped on zero, England's innings had been a strange admixture of fluency from Cook, and total lack of comfort and security at the other end. There wasn't too much by way of swing for India's quicker bowlers, though there was seam for almost the entire duration of the innings, which was exploited quite nicely by Ishant Sharma.
Ishant was the pick of the Indian bowlers until his figures were dented in the final stages by a rampant Root, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar again more than held his own and Jadeja showed how much he has come on as a bowler, not only keeping things tight but also picking up important wickets.
Apart from Cook, the early stage of England's innings was marked by a regular routine of play and miss, Ian Bell and Pietersen both struggling to come to terms with the quality of the bowling. Cook, careful in defence but alert enough to put the bad deliveries away, batted as if on a completely different surface to the rest, setting stall with three boundaries in one Shami Ahmed over, each one played with great deliberateness and going exactly where he intended them to go.
Bell's frustration manifested itself in a wild thrash off Ishant smartly held at thirdman by a tumbling Bhuvneshwar, which brought an uncharacteristically edgy Pietersen to the middle. He rode his luck, being struck painfully amidships by Ishant, seeing a very confident shout for leg before turned down by Sudhir Asnani, and focussing on survival rather than run-making. His first runs came off the 13th delivery faced, and he was just three off 22 even as Cook batted with supreme comfort, completely dominating a second-wicket stand of 95.
Cook fell against the run of play, adjudged leg before to R Ashwin by umpire Asnani even though the ball pitched well outside leg, triggering a mini collapse that saw three wickets fall for just ten runs in 29 deliveries. It was the phase when Ashwin, otherwise profligate, and Jadeja bowled effectively and beautifully in tandem, inducing false strokes from Eoin Morgan and Samit Patel, promoted to No. 5 in a bid to cash in on the batting Power Play.
It was Root, dropped on nought by Kohli low to his left at slip off Ishant, who lent urgency to the proceedings, using his feet nicely to spinners and pacers alike and pulling Pietersen along with him. Pietersen, who took 85 deliveries to reach 50, suddenly went into overdrive as he made 26 off his next eight. 17 came off the 45th over sent down by Ashwin, 16 off the next from Ishant as England floored the accelerator.
A screaming yorker from Ishant ended the entertainment as he uprooted Pietersen's middle and leg stumps, by which time Pietersen and Root had smashed 78 in just 56 deliveries. Root, put down again when 42 at midwicket by Raina off Jadeja, continued to prosper through a mix of clean ball-striking and cheeky innovation on his way to his maiden half-century.