Eoin Morgan and Jade Dernbach, England's match-winners in their jaunt to Ireland earlier in the week, once again produced their one-day best as England scraped home by six wickets in a tense Twenty20 against India at Old Trafford. Morgan made 49 from 27 balls to break the back of a stiff 166-run target, after Dernbach's array of slower balls and yorkers had stopped India's big hitters in their tracks with career-best figures of 4 for 22 from 3.4 overs.
On a sluggish pitch, India chose to bat first and posted a competitive total of 165, thanks largely to an eye-catching 61 from 39 balls from the debutant Ajinkya Rahane. Rahul Dravid, in his first and last Twenty20 international appearance, smacked three consecutive sixes off Samit Patel to turn a previously laborious knock into a sprightly 31 from 21, while Suresh Raina put his miserable Test series to one side with a useful 33 from 19.
Between Dernbach and Morgan, however, England appeared to have the game in the bag with 32 runs still required from the final 29 deliveries of the contest. However, an exceptional 19th over from Munaf Patel went for just three runs, as Patel smashed his bat in two with an attempted cover drive, before Ravi Bopara was suckered by Munaf's line outside off and struggled to put bat on ball.
Needing ten from the final over, England then had a stroke of major fortune when umpire Rob Bailey erroneously called wide when Vinay Kumar pitched his first delivery just inside the tramlines. Suitably buoyed, Patel then squeezed a pair of fours through third man before sealing the match with a lofted drive over extra cover with three balls of the contest remaining.
England's innings had started ignominiously when the debutant Alex Hales - whose only other slice of the action had been a juggled catch at long-on which deflected off his shoulder - was suckered by Praveen Kumar's command of swing and pinned lbw for a second-ball duck. After three of their Powerplay overs England were floundering on 17 for 1, with a hyperactive Kevin Pietersen inside-edging their only boundary through third man, and they scarcely looked any more composed when Pietersen was dropped by a diving Parthiv Patel at third man.
Two balls later Craig Kieswetter found a thick edge for six off Munaf, and it wasn't until Pietersen whistled a conventional pull through square leg that their innings really found its feet. Vinay was muscled expertly through the covers twice in four balls by Kieswetter, before R Ashwin's first nine-ball over was bookended by two more Pietersen boundaries. At 58 for 1 after six, England were suddenly up and running.
That solid position was dented twice in the next seven balls, however. First Kieswetter holed out to short cover, then Pietersen's international summer was ended by a flash of inspiration from MS Dhoni, who moved down the leg side to gather a swinging delivery from the part-timer Virat Kohli, and whipped off the bails as Pietersen toppled out of his crease. He was gone for 33 from 23 balls, and at 60 for 3 after 7.1 overs, England were suddenly tottering.
It didn't take Morgan long to find his range, however. After seeing out Kohli's over, he drilled his first three balls from Rohit Sharma for four, four, six - two threaded cover-drives and a massive mow over deep midwicket. He added two more fours in Kohli's next two overs, then marked the resumption of play after a lengthy delay by clipping a Praveen full-toss off his pads through fine leg.
At the other end, Bopara struggled to match either Morgan's poise or placement, as he was made to wait 24 deliveries before cuffing his first boundary through deep midwicket off Ashwin. But while Morgan was in the zone, all he needed to do was stay with his partner. The pair added 73 for the fourth wicket in 8.1 overs, before Morgan was sweetly caught at point by Sharma. The decision required ratification from the third umpire, but was never seriously in doubt. And nor, at that stage, was the result.
Bopara's unconvincing 31 from 36 balls allowed India to regain a toe-hold in the game, and it wasn't the only aspect of England's performance that lacked conviction. Earlier, the notion of unsettling India's openers with the short ball backfired spectacularly as Rahane unveiled a range of cultured but aggressive strokes, including four fours in Stuart Broad's first two overs. His first-class average of 67 points to a player with a rounded technique that can cope with all eventualities, and as India muscled along to 49 for 1 in the six-over Powerplay, their prospects looked sky-high.
Ravi Bopara ended a second-wicket stand of 65 in seven overs when Dravid's debut ended with a drill to short extra cover. Five balls later, Rahane was on his way as well, as Dernbach at third man pocketed a cramped uppercut off Broad. Kohli came and went in the same Broad over as he flung his bat at a lifter outside off, and when Graeme Swann had Sharma stumped for 1, India had lost four wickets in 16 balls.
The stage was set for Raina, whose Test series had ended in such ignominy with a 42-ball pair at The Oval. His struggles against the short ball had been a recurring theme of the summer, although he proved a point of sorts by smashing a Broad bouncer with alacrity over midwicket for six. Two more sixes off Tim Bresnan gave India's innings a late lift, but Dernbach's variations were too cunning for the tail. India were bowled out with two balls of their allocation remaining, and how vital would those prove to be in the final analysis?