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RAJKOT: Assertive batting and off-spinner James Tredwell's timely strikes structured England's nine-run win over India in the first ODI at the brand new Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium here, on Friday. England posted an imposing 325 on the back of a big opening stand between Ian Bell (85) and skipper Alastair Cook (75) after choosing to bat and then restricted India to 316/9 as a mounting asking rate took its toll in the chase.
Tredwell, who is touring instead of the rested Graeme Swann, claimed 4/44, ensuring that the good work of Samit Patel when England batted was not wasted. Patel had clubbed an unbeaten 44 in just 20 balls at the fag end of the visitors' innings, as 38 came off the last two overs. Although India looked in the hunt for the most part, England got breakthroughs at crucial times. Gautam Gambhir (52), Ajinkya Rahane (47), Yuvraj Singh (61) and Suresh Raina (50) all contributed. But once MS Dhoni (32) was out in the 45th over after striking a succession of sixes, the task proved to be beyond India's lower order.
India had to complete their biggest chase on home soil to take the series lead. They began well and openers Gambhir and Rahane were entirely untroubled as they piled on 96. Gambhir was the more adventurous of the two. He stole several boundaries between slip and gully against some wayward pace bowling, reaching his fifty in 48 balls. Both gave up their wickets in successive overs by Tredwell, against whom they never looked comfortable. A frustrated Rahane holed out to long off and Gambhir’s casual flick was held by Bell at mid-wicket. Virat Kohli (15) stepped out to blaze Tim Bresnan through the covers, but only managed to edge to the wicket-keeper.
Yuvraj and Raina got together at 138/3 and added 60 in nine overs. Yuvraj was in his element and needed just 38 balls to complete his half-century, which included a six off Bresnan. His was a needless dismissal. One ball before the Batting Powerplay, Yuvraj paddle-scooped a Tredwell long hop straight to short fine leg. Raina was dropped on 46 by Bresnan at third man after replays indicated that the ball had touched the ground as the fielder dived. Raina could add just four more to his score before he lobbed the ball back to Tredwell for his fourth wicket. The asking rate had now begun a steady climb towards the 10 mark as Dhoni went on a six-hitting spree, but his luck - and India's - eventually ran out.
Of the 15 losses that England have endured in their last 16 ODIs in India, none was more humiliating than the 158-run shellacking in Rajkot some five years ago. That was a different stadium, and England made a strong charge towards correcting their lop-sided record at the spanking new venue. Bell and Cook added 158 in their opening alliance after choosing to bat on the flattest of pitches. The visitors grew from strength to strength on such a stable platform, so much so that bursts of wickets – twice over – failed to deter their progress. The innings reached a crescendo in the last couple of overs, as Patel and Craig Kieswetter thrashed India’s principal pacers, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, for 38.
Bell appeared to be the most fluent of England’s batsmen. Although he had scored 91 and 108 in the practice games at Delhi, Bell took some time to get his eye in. He edged Bhuvneshwar through the vacant first slip region, neither Dhoni nor R. Ashwin moving a muscle from their respective stations. Then began a series of drives; straight down against Bhuvneshwar, leaning towards off against a wayward Ishant Sharma as England went along merrily at just under six runs-per over. Bell brought up his half-century in 60 balls with a tight reverse paddle against Jadeja, who justified his place ahead of Cheteshwar Pujara by bowling economically while everyone else was getting the stick.
The first wicket fell –and justifiably so – to a run out, when Rahane’s direct hit from short fine leg found Bell short. Cook went to a top-edged slog-sweep off Suresh Raina, caught by Rahane in the circle, as another fruitful alliance began. Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan added 76 in just under 11 overs as Dhoni mixed and matches his bowling combinations. Morgan looked particularly dangerous when he carted Sharma and Dinda for sixes, but was out when he drove loosely at a slower delivery from the latter for a catch that Dinda clasped to his chest as he went down.
India would have hoped to arrest England after Pietersen fell in the 44th over. But Patel and Kieswetter smashed 76 in 37 balls. Patel, who had come ahead of debutant Joe Root, wreaked havoc with six fours and a six, his blitz culminating in 20 runs off Bhuvneshwar’s last over of the innings. The seven bowlers that Dhoni tried out were – aside from Jadeja and Raina – all clobbered. Ishant leaked runs at almost nine-an over as England posted a winning total on a lightning quick outfield.