On Tuesday morning, Vikram Mann, 17, and Ameya, 15, were waiting anxiously for bus No.1 at Calthorpe Road, which would take them to Edgbaston, a short hop away. The potential series decider between England and India was starting in 20 minutes and they didn’t want to miss out on a single delivery, even though it was evident that India were to bat second after MS Dhoni won the toss.
Vikram, an Ajinkya Rahane fan, and Ameya, an out-and-out Dhoni supporter, were not even born — perhaps their parents themselves were teenagers — when India last trumped England in a bilateral series in this country 24 years ago. The need to be part of this history perhaps explained their urgency — and, by extrapolation, of thousands of others expats who hurried to this impressively large venue.
In the event, the stadium emptied out 20 overs before their expectations, but the blockbuster Indian-origin crowd got more than their money’s worth. MS Dhoni and his men gave England a nine-wicket hiding in the fourth One-Day International to take a 3-0 series winning lead. Fittingly, it came at the very venue of their last major triumph, the 2013 Champions Trophy.
The 50-over series triumph may not — and should not — paper over the cracks that India showed in the five-day format earlier in the summer. But it ought to give the team — and its supporters — much-needed belief as they begin the ground work for the World Cup defence early next year.
On Tuesday, they checked two crucial boxes that were there for the ticking. The struggling Shikhar Dhawan found form with an unbeaten 97, and perhaps more importantly Ajinkya Rahane, the ODI batsman, finally came of age with a maiden century.
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Before Wednesday, Rahane had an unspectacular average of 26.25 in 32 ODIs and only six fifties. For a player of his technique, it was embarrassing. Dhawan, meanwhile, hadn’t made a fifty away from the subcontinent since his century against Zimbabwe last year.
It helped both their cause that their pace colleagues — Bhuvneshwar Kumar (8-3-14-2) and Mohammed Shami (7.3-1-28-3) bowled exceedingly well on a brown but helpful track to restrict England to a paltry 206 in 49.3 overs. But the total, however small, still had to be chased, and England had in their pace-bowling line-up the consistent Chris Woakes, the tall Steven Finn, a surprise weapon in Harry Gurney and, yes, James Anderson. Just to cover all bases, England had also picked Moeen Ali, the off-spinner who earned the epithet of Moeenalitharan for his exploits against India in the Test series.
On a pitch where Kumar was well nigh unplayable in the morning, you would have normally expected Anderson, the finest bowler in English conditions, to make things difficult for the Indians. In his first two overs, he indeed did, beating Dhawan a few times. India were 4/0 after four overs. But in Anderson’s next over, Rahane broke the shackles so emphatically that England never recovered from there.
It began with a flick of the wrists to a four through midwicket that must have felt like a whiplash across England’s collective bare back. The next ball, a fuller one on the pads, was duly dispatched to the square-leg boundary. A push through the covers was followed by another flick to midwicket — 16 runs from the over. Anderson was out of the attack. England were out of the game.
With the uncharacteristically – but understandably — cautious Dhawan also opening up, Rahane sailed into the forties — a sort of trouble area for him lately —with a six off Steve Finn. In the last two matches at Cardiff and Nottingham, he was out after making 41 and 45 high quality runs.
“Every one goes through this phase when you start getting out at a particular score,” Dhoni explained in the post match conference. “For Rahane, it was this period between 40 and 50. But he handled it well. And after reaching his fifty, he never looked back.”
Rahane got out of this ‘Bermuda triangle’ of his the way he had entered it. He slogswept Moeen Ali for a six over midwicket to bring up his half-century. A celebratory four to fine leg off the hips followed, while the icing on the cake came in the next over when he charged down the track and tonked Anderson, back for a second spell, over the rope at widish long on.
Anderson would suffer this fate again, this time at the hands of Dhawan, who also brought up his fifty with a massive six into the stands. From England’s point of view, India were hopelessly unstoppable by now. A boundary was coming every over, and a six in almost every other. Rahane went past his previous best score of 91 (against England in 2011) with an uppercut off Waokes. In the bowler’s next over, India’s 28th, the right-hander from Mumbai tucked one away to fine leg for perhaps the most fulfilling two runs he had ever ran.
He was out soon after, caught at cover off Gurney, leaving India 24 short at that juncture. Dhawan knocked off those in nine balls to remain unbeaten at 97. Walking back, the left-hander from Delhi would have hoped his bowlers had conceded three more runs. But the way things started earlier in the morning, it looked India would be chasing a significantly smaller total.
Bhuvneshwar brought one in prodigiously to knock back Alex Hales’ stumps before accounting for Alastair Cook with one that took the left-hander’s edge to gully. His figures read 3-2-1-2. England hadn’t made much runs when Cook and Hales and given them decent starts, what were the chances they would make a competitive score here? In the event they couldn’t, despite Moeen Ali’s counterattacking 67 off 52 balls.
Dhoni will have to wait till Leeds on Friday to hold aloft the trophy, but he won’t mind waiting. He waited all summer long for this moment. One more match? Bring it on.