England end on a high
A much-improved England brought the curtain down on their chastening tour of India with victory in the Twenty20 international in Kolkata.
Beaten 5-0 in the one-day series, this match represented England’s last chance to open their account on this trip - and salvage some of the pride lost over the last two weeks.
They responded with an incisive bowling display, spearheaded by the ever-impressive Steven Finn, that limited India to 120 for nine, before Kevin Pietersen defied a broken thumb to plunder 53 off 39 balls.
A six-wicket triumph every bit as comprehensive as it was belated was wrapped up with eight deliveries to spare. It ensures England not only remain number one in the ICC rankings but that they will at least fly home with some positive memories from what has been a largely disappointing tour.
They deserve great credit for the manner in which they performed here, on an Eden Gardens surface seemingly perfectly suited to their hosts.
It was so slow, and offered such extravagant turn, that India’s seamers bowled just three overs between them, and allowed slow left-armer Ravindra Jadeja to take 1-9 from four overs.
Finn’s haul of 3-22 was, therefore, all the more impressive, while Tim Bresnan was nigh on immaculate in returning figures of 2-19. A double wicket maiden - so rare in this form of the game - enabled Ravi Bopara to take 2-16.
Bopara also scored the winning run, Pietersen having been denied the honour by a dubious lbw decision as he attempted a second switch-hit for six.
Pietersen’s assault - and a third-wicket stand of 60 in fewer than eight overs with Samit Patel - eased any of the nerves that may have been evident in the England dressing room, particularly in the wake of their precipitous collapse on the same pitch in the final one-day international on Tuesday.
Yet the foundations for England’s success were unquestionably laid with the ball, to such an extent that no-one bettered Suresh Raina’s 39 in a faltering India innings.
If England’s spirits needed lifting after their one-day travails, a wicket in each of the first two overs - after they lost the toss - represented the ideal tonic.
Both owed much to wonderful diving catches from Craig Kieswetter, who leapt high to his right to collect Ajinkya Rahane’s edged drive off Finn before using both hands to account for Robin Uthappa as he fenced at Bresnan.
Alex Hales maintained the theme of excellence in the field when, running round from deep midwicket, he held a steepling chance offered by Virat Kohli off Bresnan.
Raina’s response to a scorecard that read 26 for three was typically emphatic, following up a glorious straight six at Finn’s expense by sweeping Graeme Swann into the stands during an over that cost 16.
However, the restorative effects of a fourth-wicket stand of 40 were lessened by a middle-order slide that saw three wickets tumble in nine balls for the addition of eight runs.
Manoj Tiwary was bowled by Patel as he essayed a sweep on one knee, before Raina cut a long hop to backward point and Jadeja played on via an open face, off successive Finn deliveries.
Cue Bopara’s intervention. He followed up two slower balls to Yusuf Pathan with a quicker one that ripped out off stump, and found appreciable reverse swing to beat Praveen Kumar’s drive and cap a double wicket maiden.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s 21, best described as scratchy and brought to an end when he chased an impossible single off the last ball of the innings, at least carried India to respectability.
England overcame the early loss of Kieswetter, who charged at Jadeja and skied to mid-off, and Hales, well held low down by Rahane at deep midwicket off Yusuf, thanks largely to Pietersen.
Dropped on one by a backpedalling Raina at square-leg, he deposited Yusuf into what became the midwicket stand as he unfurled the switch-hit, a shot complemented by a clutch of mighty sweeps and a deft scoop over the wicketkeeper.
Patel played his part, most memorably when swatting a length ball from Vinay Kumar over long-on, until he top-edged a sweep at Kohli to depart for 21.
Pietersen fell to Raina in the next over despite the ball pitching outside leg stump. That his obvious displeasure at the decision soon turned to amusement told you that England’s victory was all but assured.