Craig Kieswetter tore into India's opening bowlers and Alastair Cook made a case for a Twenty20 berth with an effective 80 not out that brought England a cantering victory which hadn't seemed as likely when the visitors posted an imposing total. But England exploited the lack of depth and predictability of India's four-man bowling attack, compounded by their specialist spinner having a relative off day while England's snared three key wickets.
It meant that another solid Ajinkya Rahane effort that displayed his enormous potential went in vain - the second time in three international innings that he has made a half-century and ended up on the losing side.
England's richer bowling stocks allowed them go in a batsman short in a game reduced to 23 overs per side after rain ruined the afternoon for the patient Southampton crowd. It turned out that the extra batsman wasn't required after Kieswetter's assault at the top left England needing 121 off 100 deliveries by the time he fell.
India's seamers rely on movement, there wasn't much available and the medium pace of Praveen Kumar and Vinay Kumar proved ideal for Kieswetter as he flayed them for boundaries through the off side. Contrary to his reputation, Cook wasn't far behind Kieswetter as he began with consecutive boundaries off Praveen.
As he often does in the IPL, MS Dhoni turned to the offspin of R Ashwin in the fifth over. However, this wasn't the heat of Chennai; it was the biting cold of a chilly Southampton evening and Ashwin was lifted over long-on for consecutive sixes by Kieswetter. He had galloped to 46 off 25 deliveries before being trapped leg-before by a Vinay inswinger but he had brought down the required rate by almost a run an over.
It was a situation that allowed Cook to settle in for the night as Dhoni was forced to use his part-timers to make up for the lack of a fifth bowler. Ian Bell, coming in at No. 3, made Cook's task easier with a delicious little innings that showcased his ability to ping the gaps on the off side without fuss. By the time Bell hit one to extra cover off Ashwin, the asking rate had fallen below seven.
Cook grew in confidence and even slammed Ashwin over deep midwicket for only his second six in ODIs. There was no dislodging him even in a shortened game once he had decided to see England through and it meant that there was to be no glory for contrasting efforts from Rahane and Suresh Raina earlier.
There was nothing in Rahane's approach or stroke-making that reminded one of the crudities of the shortest format in a game reduced to almost Twenty-20 length. Having watched a marauding Parthiv Patel allow him only two balls of the strike in the opening 20 deliveries, Rahane took charge after his opening partner's dismissal in a 79-run second-wicket stand with Rahul Dravid that set the platform for Raina to take off from.
While Rahane served further notice of his talent, Raina showed just why he is a transformed batsman in coloured clothing, using his favourite swing over cow corner to lift India from 125 to 182 in the space of 30 deliveries. He mostly faced Jade Dernbach's slower ones and wasn't tested by the short delivery, a tactic Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan were prone to using against the Indian top order, which countered them with spunk.
When Broad - who had got him caught on the pull at long leg in the first ODI - dropped it short, Rahane launched him high over the deep midwicket boundary. He lifted the spinners straight down the ground, the highlight being a straight-batted loft on the up against Samit Patel before he chipped one straight back to the combative Swann.
Dravid middled almost every delivery he played but as has often been the case with him in limited-overs cricket, elegant drives raced straight to extra cover, ferocious pulls flew to deep square leg and industrious glides found point.
Parthiv had blazed away at the start, favouring the pull and the cut to collect 26 off Bresnan's opening two overs. Anderson, however, had Parthiv throwing his bat at a short and wide one only to feather it behind, a touch so faint that HotSpot failed to pick it, again, though Snicko didn't.
Rahane and Raina ensured that India capitalised on the kickstart that Parthiv provided, but Kieswetter and Cook were too good on the night.