Bell century leads England to consolation win


Ian Bell’s third one-day century guided England to a consolation victory in the fifth and final ODI against India to bookend an ultimately disappointing tour with a second success. Although the series was already lost, a 3-2 defeat represents a marked improvement on recent efforts in the country, but Alastair Cook’s chief regret will be that his side took so long to put in a second accomplished performance, after they had taken a 1-0 lead in Rajkot a little more than two weeks ago.
The bowlers, lead by Tim Bresnan, Steven Finn and James Tredwell, had made good use of Cook winning the toss to restrict India to 226, despite a fighting 83 from Suresh Raina, and England looked to have a modest hike ahead of them in order to secure only a third ODI win against India at home in 23 attempts. At times, the target seemed to loom higher than the Himalayas visible behind Dharamsala’s multicoloured pavilion but Bell is an experienced climber these days and Eoin Morgan brought along his spare oxygen canister to ease the ascent at the end.
Like Raina, whose fourth half-century in as many innings helped drag India from a potentially disastrous 79 for 5 earlier in the day, Bell was not entirely secure at the crease, twice edging past his stumps early on and struggling to time the ball as the surface got slower. But he stuck around as England lost two wickets for 11 runs in 6.2 overs and after a diligent, restorative partnership with Joe Root, he began to look more imposing, stepping out of his crease to hit the disappointing R Ashwin for six and striking timely boundaries whenever the asking rate began to enquire a little more urgently.
Although Root was bowled by Ravindra Jadeja, slogging across the line in ungainly fashion after another level-headed knock, Morgan buckled down before adding a few flourishes of his own to ease England past their target with 16 balls to spare. At 1317 metres above sea level, the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium is among the loftiest international grounds in the world and Morgan seemed keen to see just how far he could hit a six in the thin mountain air.
Despite being described as a match of “no consequence” in some local papers, India chose not to experiment with their line-up, again leaving Cheteshwar Pujara on the bench. They could perhaps have done with his monkish self-discipline, as Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli departed to consecutive deliveries via loose drives outside off to trigger a top-order collapse. It was left to Raina, India’s leading run-scorer in the series, and Jadeja, who has also toyed regularly with England over the last month, to pull things together with a spiky, 78-run partnership, before some late hitting from the tail, combined with a rash of dropped catches, helped the score towards respectability.
Before the match, Raina had expressed a desire to usurp one of his colleagues up the order and he made good use of a longer spell at the crease after coming in during the seventh over. A harsher judge, however, may conclude that he failed to construct the truly big innings that the situation provided an opportunity for.
England have been quiescent opponents in the past for Raina, who improved his average against them to 47.47 with his 11th fifty, but he was allowed let-offs on 5 and 61 before pulling idly to midwicket with a hundred in sight. The first was a difficult, diving chance that would have completed a hat-trick of slip catches for Tredwell but the latter opportunity, grassed by Cook at backward square leg, was much more straightforward.
Perhaps Raina was deserving of some benevolence after the fiery start England’s bowlers made in chilly, if bright, conditions. The Dalai Lama is based in exile at nearby McLeodganj but the early exchanges were far from peaceable on a hard, fast surface with enough juice in it to make a Tibetan monk sit up and blink.
There was initial seam movement on offer for Finn but it was Bresnan who made the first incursion, removing ersatz opener Rohit. Having timed one exquisite square drive for four, Rohit attempted a reprise to a slightly wider delivery that drifted further away from his crease-bound push, the ball slicing off the outside edge to the right of Tredwell at second slip, where he took a tumbling catch. The very next ball produced a facsimile swish from Kohli, though Tredwell went in for a bit of variety on this occasion, juggling the ball three times in front of the kneeling Cook before grasping it for good with a giddy grin.
When Yuvraj got a thick edge to point trying to turn Finn through square leg, the match was beginning to resemble an early season encounter in England – at least in temperature and bowling conditions, if not the setting. It could have been even better for England had Raina’s edge off Chris Woakes – replacing Jade Dernbach – stuck but he battled pugnaciously after being hit on the shoulder by his first ball, from Finn.
Tredwell has spent the one-day series doing a passable impression of Graeme Swann, particularly to left-handers, and he had Gautam Gambhir caught by the sprawling Bell at point. The wicket came from Tredwell’s second ball, an immediate, Swann-esque intervention, and England’s delight ratcheted up further when Finn won an lbw decision against MS Dhoni. Only during the spells of the part-time bowlers, Root and Samit Patel, did India’s batsmen display any sense of comfort. Their combined 11 overs cost 80 runs as Raina gave India one last spin of the prayer wheel in pursuit of 4-1 – but he could not turn a molehill into a mountain.


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