Ravi Bopara and Stuart Broad, two England players with bright futures, shone under the Old Trafford floodlights to lift their team from the brink of defeat to a three-wicket victory and a 3-1 lead in the series. Coming together with 99 still needed to overhaul India's 212, they formed a record eighth-wicket stand for England and Broad registered career-best performances with bat and ball as the target was achieved with two overs to spare.
The pair showed a maturity that had escaped the top order except for Paul Collingwood. Leaving behind the patient approach which served them so well while batting first in the previous games, they played as though warming up for next month's Twenty20 World Championship. The partnership between Bopara and Broad went to the other extreme, as the run-chase began to resemble Test cricket. It was compelling viewing.
Slowly but surely they knocked off the runs with calm, correct batting. Broad survived a close lbw shout, against Piyush Chawla, on 25, but as the target slipped below 50, India began to fret and mistakes crept into their game. The fielding, which had held relatively firm, creaked again with overthrows and fumbles and the pressure got to the bowlers.
When Zaheer Khan was recalled for a second spell, Broad drove him off the back foot with such class that his father would have been proud. He repeated the shot off Sachin Tendulkar, between which Chawla sent down five wides to aid England's cause, and Ajit Agarkar's final over also included two wides to spoil his earlier four-wicket burst.
Broad was looking like the Test No. 7 that everyone hopes he will eventually become, driving Chawla through the covers off the front foot and it was he who hit the winning runs. Bopara, however, was equally impressive. At the World Cup, he took England to within two runs of a remarkable run-chase against Sri Lanka and this time he was able to see the job through. By the end England had the run of play, as airy shots fell into gaps but they deserved the good fortune for the earlier hard work.
It will be a huge fillip for this England team to know they can pull themselves round from the trouble they were in at 114 for 7, however, they will realise they shouldn't have left it to two players with a combined age of 43. Alastair Cook and Matt Prior were gone within the first four overs, while Ian Bell played in an unusually expansive manner, forgetting how successful he had been with accumulating in the early overs.
England were playing in a different manner now they had a target to chase, even though it was considerably smaller than the totals they had reached batting first. After using more edge than middle, Bell didn't offer any bat at all to Agarkar and watched the ball nip back off the seam and take off stump.
It has been a feisty second half to the summer since India arrived and Kevin Pietersen's arrival at the crease rarely suggests a period of calm. He and Collingwood counter-attacked as England stayed well ahead of the asking-rate. However, with the match heading England's way Agarkar, back for a second spell, banged one in at Pietersen who lofted it to Chawla at square leg. Andrew Flintoff played a stiff-legged drive and Owais Shah was undone by a beautifully flighted delivery from Ramesh Powar.
All the while Collingwood was playing a captain's innings, but when he was run-out by RP Singh, from backward point, England had virtually thrown away their chances. Then their new-found one-day resilience made another appearance.
The Man-of-the-Match award was an easy decision after Broad also bagged 4 for 51 as India struggled to 212. Even when they weren't losing wickets, progress was slow, the main stand of 71 between Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh taking nearly 18 overs.
It ended in the most unlikely fashion when Tendulkar pulled a Pietersen long-hop down Flintoff's throat at deep square-leg. Pietersen, never one to miss such a moment, celebrated with Brett Lee-style fist pumping. Tendulkar's half-century was a painstaking affair but he only played as he was allowed to by the outstanding efforts of England's three frontline fast bowlers.
However, the cheers for the early wickets paled in comparison with the roar that greeted Flintoff's introduction in the 12th over. This was his first international appearance on his home ground since the Ashes Test in 2005 and his first ODI here since 2003. It took him just six balls to get on the scoreboard when Rahul Dravid nibbled outside the off stump after facing a hostile opening over.
Monty Panesar, back on a happy hunting ground, produced one of his more effective one-day spells and his dismissal of Mahendra Singh Dhoni was classic. Powar followed two balls later as Broad took a four-wicket haul for the first time in one-day internationals, but his day in the spotlight was far from finished.
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