India wins the series by 2-1.

England’s first win on the India tour came by a margin of only five runs as they staved off a fightback from Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav, who scored 90 and came close to winning the match for India.

England 321 for 8 (Roy 65, Stokes 57*, Bairstow 56, Pandya 3-49) beat India 316 for 9 (Jadhav 90, Pandya 56, Kohli 55) by five runs.

Chris Woakes pulled off the Kolkata grandstand finish that had eluded his team-mate, Ben Stokes, in last year’s World T20 final, as he held his nerve in the face of a supreme onslaught from India’s man of the moment, Kedar Jadhav, and delivered for England their first victory in India in eight matches and more than 10 weeks of touring.

The end, when it came, was anticlimactic to all but the 11 relieved Englishmen in the outfield, and their nerve-shredded dressing room. With 16 runs to defend, Woakes recovered from being slammed for six and four in the first two deliveries of the game’s final over to chalk up four consecutive dot-balls, including the vital scalp of Jadhav for 90 from 75 balls, to seal a consolation win in the three-match ODI series.

It was a supremely hard-earned victory at the end of an extraordinary series that has featured a grand total of 2090 runs in six innings – a record for a three-match rubber. And England’s effort was all the more impressive given that they lost the toss (and with it the chance to pace their innings against a measurable end-point) as well as one of their frontline seamers, David Willey, who had to withdraw from the attack with a shoulder injury after two overs.

However, thanks to another tapestry of hard-hitting cameos all down the order – from Jason Roy against the new ball to Woakes and Stokes at the death – England ended up with just enough runs on the board. And when 321 for 8 on a sporty seamer’s surface equals “just enough”, you know the format has entered a new dimension.

The foundations of England’s victory were laid by the opening pair of Roy and Sam Billings, who was playing in his first match of the series after Alex Hales’ withdrawal with a broken hand. From the outset, India’s seamers found bounce and movement from a probing line and length outside off stump to force a naturally aggressive duo to sit tight for their opportunities.

To both men’s credit, they did just that. Roy once again took the lead with his third fifty of the series while Billings played the holding role, contributing 35 to a 98-run stand that was only broken by the advent of the first drinks break.

Bairstow, a late replacement for Joe Root, made 56 from 64 balls to keep England ticking along in the middle over, while Morgan, a centurion in Cuttack, showed once again that he’s rediscovered that pocket-battleship power that once set him apart among England one-day batsmen.

The return of Hardik Pandya threatened another decisive momentum swing, as he picked off both set batsmen, plus a slightly subdued Jos Buttler, in a brilliant six-over spell that proved both incisive and restrictive. England, however, no longer know how to stop attacking in the closing overs, and Stokes in particular served notice of his intention to banish the memories of his last visit to Kolkata. He finished unbeaten on 57 from 39 balls, with Woakes chipping in with 34 from 19, as England posted a total that would have counted as formidable in any series.

Nevertheless, having demonstrated the potency with the new-ball in defeat at Pune and Cuttack, the onus was on England’s seamers to strike hard and strike fast in the most favourable conditions they had encountered all winter. And they should, by rights, have done so with the very first delivery, when Woakes was shown on replay to have grazed Ajinkya Rahane’s glove with an off-stump lifter, but nobody thought to appeal.

Rahane, however, did not detain them for long. He had been brought in as a replacement for the out-of-sorts Shikhar Dhawan, but managed just 1 from six balls before being bowled by a big inswinger from the left-arm seam of David Willey. Willey, however, struggled with his line, conceding five wides in two overs before clutching at his shoulder and leaving the field for treatment, never to return.

His departure could have been a devastating blow for England in less conducive conditions, but fortunately their remaining four seamers closed ranks to good effect, allowing the spinner Moeen Ali to get through an impressive eight-over spell of Jadeja-esque pace and purpose that covered off Willey’s remaining workload.

But India just kept coming. KL Rahul took a block-or-blast approach against the new ball, slotting a monstrous six over the covers in Woakes’ first over before falling to a similarly aggressive wallop when Jake Ball entered the attack as Willey’s replacement in the sixth.

Virat Kohli calibrated the conditions in his inimitably forensic fashion, and set about pacing the chase with his second half-century of the series. On 35, Ball at deep backward square dropped a clanger as Plunkett banged in a bouncer – a terrible miss from a fielder who clearly had too long to think about the stature of the man who had launched the ball his way – but for once such a let-off wasn’t overly costly.

Unlike Pune and Cuttack, Kolkata kept on giving if the seamers were willing to bend their backs. And, in the 20th over, Stokes struck the big blow, luring Kohli into the drive with a bit of width outside off, for Buttler to complete a high take to his right as the ball kicked off the outside edge.

Yuvraj Singh kept India’s innings ticking along for a while, climbing into a rare Moeen long-hop to batter a huge six over midwicket. But, on 45, he aimed in the same direction off the extra pace of Plunkett, and could only pick out Billings on the edge of the rope.

MS Dhoni, too, was a victim of that extra spring in the pitch, as he climbed into a drive against Ball to snick another flying edge to Buttler. However, before his departure, he had demonstrated that Plunkett’s pace and bounce could work in India’s favour too, when he top-edged a pull that sailed over the keeper’s head for six. And Jadhav was in the mood to take that tactic and run with it.

With Pandya a slap-happy accomplice, India’s sixth-wicket pair camped themselves on the back foot and waited for England to bang the ball half-way down the track. From a dicey scoreline of 173 for 5, they carved 104 runs from the next 83 balls, with a fusillade of boundaries to keep an asking rate of nine an over in constant sight.

Jadhav smashed Woakes for back-to-back fours in his eighth over before bringing up his fifty with a stunning back-foot smash over long-on off Stokes from 46 balls, but Pandya was the revelation on this occasion – connecting with ferocity regularly, not least with a duck-and-pull six over fine-leg off Plunkett that brought up his maiden ODI fifty from 38 balls.

A change of plan was needed as India brought the requirement down below fifty with five overs remaining, and Stokes once again delivered, finding a fuller inswinging length to beat Pandya’s ambitious wipe across the line and bowl him for 56 from 43 balls. One over later, Jadeja was gone as well, caught in the deep by Bairstow, but not before he had slaughtered Woakes’ fuller length for two of the hardest-hit boundaries of the night.

Jadhav toasted Woakes’ final delivery straight down the ground, making it 16 off the over, and leaving India needing a very gettable 27 from the final three overs. Morgan responded by turning back to Stokes – the man whose death skills had deserted him so fatefully on his previous appearance at this venue, in last year’s World T20 final.

This time, Stokes responded with skill and nerve, limiting India to four singles – one of them a harshy judged wide – in an over that also included the scalp of Ravi Ashwin, caught off a steepling top-edge as he tried, but failed, to take on the length ball just as Carlos Brathwaite had so triumphantly achieved nine months earlier.

Still Jadhav wasn’t done, inside-edging another four past the keeper to keep India within reach, but a diet of low full-tosses from Ball kept his more aggressive intentions at arm’s length to leave Woakes defending 16 runs from the final over of the night.

Cue Jadhav’s most outrageous stroke of the night – an open-shouldered slam for six over wide long-off, to reduce the requirement to 10 from five, and revive agonising memories of Stokes’ own implosion nine months earlier. When Jadhav followed up one ball later with another flat-bat for four over mid-off, Eden Gardens was ready for lift-off.

But Woakes and his captain Morgan weren’t done yet, knowing full well that, at eight-down, one good delivery could still derail the chase. Instead, Woakes offered four, finding a consistently awkward length outside off that forced Jadhav to reach for his strokes. He reached, fatefully, with a drive into Billings’ midriff at long-off, and with him went the game.  http://www.espn.in/cricket/series/10732/report/1034823/

 

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