Strauss stars in thrilling tie
Andrew Strauss led from the front with a sensational 158 as an astonishing match between England and India ended in a dramatic tie.
The hosts appeared in control at the halfway stage after Sachin Tendulkar’s sublime 120 propelled them to a mammoth total of 338.
However, Strauss emulated Tendulkar’s innings with a magnificent knock of his own to put England on the brink of a remarkable victory at 280 for two with eight overs remaining.
There was to be another twist in the tale as Zaheer Khan struck in successive balls at the start of the batting powerplay; removing Ian Bell for 69 and also ending Strauss' 145-ball stay at the crease.
England stumbled thereafter, but just when it appeared as though they were going to suffer a painful defeat, sixes from Graeme Swann, Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shahzad helped them to 29 runs from the final 11 deliveries and a share of the spoils.
While the closing stages of England’s innings will live long in the memory, the earlier efforts of Bresnan, who returned excellent figures of 5-48, should not be forgotten.
It was he who played the lead role as India suffered a collapse of their own, losing seven wickets for 33 runs in the space of 24 deliveries to be dismissed with one ball remaining.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side will rue their failure to bat out 50 overs and may also reflect on a poor piece of running that saw umpire Marais Erasmus call one short against Munaf Patel as Zaheer looked to scramble two off the penultimate ball.
At the time, the incident seemed likely to prove insignificant, with England needing to pull off the highest run-chase in World Cup history if they were to emerge victorious.
Strauss and Kevin Pietersen played confidently from the outset to give their side a chance, however, with the former making the most of an early reprieve that saw India fail to appeal after he had appeared to edge Zaheer through to Dhoni.
England’s captain also saw a lofted on-drive narrowly evade a diving Harbhajan Singh at mid-on, but Pietersen looked in great touch as he drove Zaheer down the ground for four on two occasions.
It was to be another straight drive that brought Pietersen’s innings to an end, albeit in bizarre fashion. Munaf appeared to be taking evasive action as he completed his followthrough, but the bowler somehow managed to palm the ball up into the air before slipping to the ground and completing the catch.
Jonathan Trott helped Strauss put on 43 for the second wicket before he was trapped lbw by recalled leg-spinner Piyush Chawla.
Bell, like his captain, benefited from a stroke of fortune on 17 as he was rapped on the pads by Yuvraj, prompting India to call for a review. Replays suggested the ball would have hit middle and off and Bell appeared resigned to his fate as he trooped towards the pavilion, but umpire Billy Bowden opted not to overturn the decision, with the batsman having been struck more than two and a half metres down the wicket.
From then on, the home side posed little threat as Strauss and Bell mixed intelligent rotation of the strike with regular boundaries in a composed stand of 170.
Bell moved to 50 with a wonderful slog-swept six off Chawla, while Strauss, having brought up his hundred from just 99 balls with a cover-driven single, progressed serenely from 100 to 150 in the space of just 36 balls.
With India seemingly in disarray, it was England's decision to take the batting powerplay that sparked a sudden change in fortunes as Zaheer made his mark.
Bell, who by this stage was struggling with cramp, skied an unsightly heave to Virat Kohli at cover and, with the batsmen having crossed, Strauss was then trapped lbw next ball by a searing yorker.
Paul Collingwood and Matt Prior swiftly followed to injudicious strokes and when Michael Yardy swept Munaf to Virender Sehwag with 16 balls remaining all hope appeared lost.
However, Bresnan and Swann both launched Chawla over midwicket for maximums before Shahzad drove his first ball, from Munaf, down the ground for six to leave five required from the final three balls.
That figure had been reduced to two by the time Swann faced up to the final delivery, but he could only manage a single.
Tendulkar had earlier provided the perfect example of how to construct a one-day innings as he guided India to a commanding score.
After taking time to play himself in against the new ball, the 37-year-old accelerated in devastating fashion, smashing 10 fours and five sixes in a wonderful 115-ball innings.
Unsurprisingly, it was Sehwag who provided the early momentum for India with a typically adventurous 26-ball 35 after seeing three edges land safely in a hugely eventful opening over from James Anderson, who finished with disappointing figures of 0-91 from 9.5 overs.
Sehwag perished in Bresnan’s first over as he looked to steer a back-of-a-length delivery down to third man and succeeded only in finding wicketkeeper Prior, who leapt to his right to take a fine catch.
Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir took control following Sehwag’s exit with a classy partnership of 134 for the second wicket.
Gambhir was the initial aggressor as he used his feet well to Swann, but Tendulkar gradually raised the tempo of his innings and picked up two effortless sixes off Collingwood.
Swann was hit for consecutive maximums as Tendulkar moved into top gear, but a change of ends proved successful for England’s off-spinner as he bowled Gambhir for 51.
Tendulkar continued to press on following the setback and brought up a record fifth World Cup hundred with a glance to the fine-leg boundary off Bresnan.
However, his sensational innings came to an end soon after as he looked to work the expensive Anderson into the leg side and got a thick leading edge to Yardy at cover.
Although Yuvraj thumped nine boundaries - chiefly through the leg-side - in a typically belligerent innings of 58, India were unable to make the most of Tendulkar’s heroics as they lost regular wickets in the final five overs.
Bresnan gained reward for his earlier hard work with three scalps in the place of four balls, but few could have predicted how valuable his contribution would prove to be.