Virat Kohli hit a polished unbeaten 77 in 79 balls as India cantered home in style in the third One-Day International against England on Saturday (January 19) at the JSCA International Cricket Stadium in Ranchi. Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni were at the crease when India reached the target of 156 runs with seven wickets in hand and 21.5 overs to spare.
The win was, however, set up by the Indian bowlers, who vindicated Dhoni's decision to field by bowling England out for just 155 in 42.2 overs.
The new ball pair of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shami Ahmed took advantage of England's uncertain approach on the new pitch, where the bounce was uneven at times, and kept the run-rate below four till the tenth over. The pressure of trying to increase the scoring rate eventually undid Alastair Cook, who shuffled across the line to Ahmed and was hit on the pad to be dismissed leg before for 17 in 28 balls.
Barring a 44-run partnership between Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen for the second wicket, there was hardly any spell when England looked in control.
Pietersen, who was welcomed by consecutive short deliveries by Ahmed, was harsh on Ishant Sharma, hitting him for two majestic boundaries in his first over. But Dhoni's decision to change Ishant's bowling end fetched immediate results. A back of the length delivery that squared Pietersen up was lapped up by Dhoni and S Ravi, the umpire, had no hesitation in raising his finger even though television replays suggested that the ball might not have gone off the thigh pad.
There was explosive action for the next ten overs with five England wickets falling for the addition of only 30 runs. Bell (25 in 43) was the third to go, caught behind off Bhuvneshwar for his only wicket in the match, while Eoin Morgan (10 in 30 balls) saw his attempt to reverse sweep R Ashwin end in an easy catch to Yuvraj Singh at backward square-leg.
The hard work of the seamers and some sharp fielding in the inner circle allowed the spinners to impose themselves quickly. Ravindra Jadeja picked up his first two, of three, wickets in three deliveries; both with arm balls, and Ashwin used his stock delivery to good effect to return figures of 2 for 37.
With England in disarray, Joe Root found an ally in Tim Bresnan and the duo put on 47 runs for the seventh wicket. Root, who has been impressive throughout the tour of India, gave a good account of himself yet again. He looked unfazed amid the chaos, played his strokes with conviction and hit four boundaries, each a delight for the eyes.
However, he fell for 39 in 57 balls in the 37th over, trying to guide Ishant to thirdman and giving Dhoni his third catch of the innings. Bresnan departed for 25, scored in 37 balls, in the next over, bowled through the gate by Ashwin. The innings folded soon after that.
The Indian chase got off to a bad start as Ajinkya Rahane was bowled by a good length delivery from Steven Finn in the third over, after being kept on the back foot with a series of short deliveries.
However, an entertaining and enterprising innings by Kohli ensured it was one-way traffic from there on. Kohli, who has been short of runs in recent times, returned to form in style. After taking a few deliveries to adjust to the fading light, he launched an attack on Jade Dernbach with a spree of boundaries in the sixth over of the innings.
The first, off a short delivery, was mistimed, but Kohli made up for it with a spanking cover drive and a wristy flick to midwicket off the next two deliveries. Those two strokes were the trigger that got the 40,000 plus crowd on its toes.
Kohli then welcomed Bresnan with another well-timed cover drive and then used Finn's pace to hit two boundaries to bring up India's 50 in the 11th over, and his scoop to a short delivery from Finn over the wicketkeeper for a one bounce boundary was easily the shot of the match.
If Kohli was the aggressor in his second-wicket partnership of 67 runs with Gautam Gambhir, then Gambhir was the accumulator. Gambhir eventually fell for a personal score of 33 in 53 balls, caught at mid-on off James Tredwell, but by then Kohli was in full flow.
Kohli continued to better his day with a series of pulls, flicks and drives, and sent the crowd into ecstasy when he dispatched two tossed up deliveries from Tredwell over the long-on fence.
Yuvraj joined the party, driving Tredwell for a boundary to open his account, followed by a pull for four off Bresnan. He played a few more attractive strokes during the course of the 66-run partnership but was finally dismissed for 30 in 21 balls with India needing 12 runs to win.
That brought Dhoni, the local boy, to the crease amid loud chants. He didn't have too much to do or too much time, but hit a boundary, in his customary style, to seal the win.
With India leading the series 2-1, the focus now shifts to the north of India with the fourth ODI to be played in Mohali on Wednesday.