Ian Bell ensured England's Indian winter ended on a high – and not only because they were playing in this spectacular Himalayan setting. But Alastair Cook confirmed afterwards that he will leave India wondering what might have been.
A 3-2 series defeat, the respectable margin secured by Bell's unbeaten 113 from 143 balls, means that a weakened England squad have won one more 50-over contest in the space of three weeks on this trip than full-strength teams managed in 16 matches over the previous seven years.
But it was no coincidence that they won both of the games in which Cook won the toss – at the start of the series in Rajkot and again here, when his first correct call out of four allowed his seamers to bowl first and exploit morning moisture. If only the captain had been able to insert the Indians in similar conditions in Chandigarh last Wednesday, England could easily be celebrating a series win. "We're not really in for decent efforts," Cook said when it was put to him that the 3-2 result represented satisfactory progress. "What's really frustrating is that we've showed when we play to our potential we can win games out here. In games two and three we didn't do that.
"But the way the lads played today was excellent. Yes, it was an important toss to win, as it was in the last game. But we can take a lot from it. It's been a young squad coming here and we've learned a lot about a lot of players. With a few senior players coming back, we've got a lot of competition for places."
All three of the players picked out for praise made a significant contribution. James Tredwell completed what his captain described as "an outstanding tour" by taking two early slip catches off consecutive balls from Tim Bresnan – the first a cracker to dismiss Rohit Sharma, the second less convincing but even more important as he juggled Virat Kohli's edge several times before clutching it to his stomach – then earning figures of two for 25 from his 10 overs.
Technically he was guilty of giving two lives to India's top scorer Suresh Raina, who was named man of the series after playing another intelligent innings, this time 83 from 93 balls. But the first one, again at second slip off Chris Woakes when Raina was in single figures, was very difficult and the second was driven so wide of the Kent off-spinner that it just brushed his fingers as he dived to his right.
He should have caught Ravi Ashwin at long-on late in the innings, a fumble that cost England 10 runs, and Samit Patel took the tally of drops to four with the worst of all off the unfortunate Steve Finn, although Shami Ahmed fell in the following over as Bresnan wrapped up the innings to end with four for 45 – a good way for him to sign off for the winter as he showed no sign of the elbow problem that has ruled him out of the various series in New Zealand over the next two months.
Drops notwithstanding, Tredwell ended the series heavily in credit with figures of 47-2-200-11, making him England's leading wicket-taker – although Finn, who was also praised by Cook, would rival him as their best bowler, as he showed again by claiming the key wicket of MS Dhoni, lbw to a beauty. Joe Root completed Cook's trio of high achievers and, although his innings of 31 from 49 balls was not as obviously important as his contributions earlier in the series, it again demonstrated his ability to size up a situation and play accordingly. England were wobbling at 64 for two, Kevin Pietersen having holed out to deep mid-wicket, but Root proved a perfect foil for Bell, taking no chances but still keeping the scoreboard ticking over, notably with a back cut for four off Bhuvneshwar Kumar, which must rank as one of the shots of the series.
Bell started uncertainly on a pitch that continued to offer pace and movement to the seamers and he was understandably chuffed, in that unassuming way of his, to have seen England home with only his third century in 120 ODI innings. "I have been guilty of getting lots of starts and not going on, so to be there at the end in a tightish game feels good," he said. But this was a stroll through the fells rather than a steep ascent and England crested the brow with 16 balls to spare, Eoin Morgan having lengthened their stride with three sixes in his unbeaten 40.
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image: © Graham Dean