ENGLAND faltered alarmingly to Harbhajan Singh’s off-spin on the way to their lowest Twenty20 international total and heaviest defeat at the Premadasa Stadium yesterday.
Stuart Broad’s team restricted India’s stroke-players and power-hitters to 170 for four after he chose to bowl first under lights in the final ICC World Twenty20 Group A match.
But, in a contest of little consequence for two teams already through to the Super Eight stage, defending champions England lost two early wickets to left-arm seamer Irfan Pathan and then repeated their worrying history of haplessness against sub-continental spin. Harbhajan finished with Twenty20 international career-best figures of four for 12, as he and leg-spinner Piyush Chawla wreaked havoc to set up India’s 90-run victory.
Afterwards, skipper Broad refuted the notion that England can’t counter spin. “I’ve seen the guys play spin extremely well, certainly in training, we’ve been learning in Sri Lanka and we’ve developed well,” he said. “We’ve had a really bad day but we still get on a bus tomorrow to Kandy and play in the Super Eights.”
He did concede, however, that England’s overall performance was well below par. “It was all-round really,” he said. “We were pretty happy with 170. We made a few mistakes in the field and we didn’t get it right with the bat at all.
“They bowled very nicely. We played across the line a bit too much, whereas against Afghanistan we struck the ball so straight and very cleanly.”
For India, Rohit Sharma top-scored with an unbeaten 55 from 33 balls, including five fours and a last-over six over point off the expensive Jade Dernbach. But Graeme Swann – the only spinner selected by England – bowled well as India threatened to cut loose with the bat but never quite did.
They promoted Pathan to open in place of the rested Virender Sehwag but the left-hander was undone by Steven Finn’s pace and was bowled in only the third over. Virat Kohli at three played brilliantly in a second-wicket stand of 57 with Gautam Gambhir until Swann had him caught at deep midwicket by Jonny Bairstow for 40 from 31 balls. Gambhir was unable to keep up that momentum in his anchor role as Swann ruled the middle overs.
By the time the opener was caught behind slogging at Finn for 45 from 38 balls, the springboard was in place for India’s cleanest hitters to cash in. Rohit would have been run out for 32 with a direct hit by Broad, one of a clutch of minor fielding misdemeanours from England.
But, as India attempted to apply the pressure, Jos Buttler’s wonderful piece of skill and quick thinking on the wide long-on boundary kept another six off the total and cut short MS Dhoni’s accustomed late surge.
Buttler somehow stayed in the field as he caught the ball and ferried it to nearby outrider Alex Hales to complete a memorable dismissal.
But, opening the batting, Hales missed a heave to leg at Pathan to be bowled for a duck.
In-form number three Luke Wright got off the mark by hitting Pathan for six over long-off, only to go lbw to the next ball when he missed a pull.
England still had a powerhouse middle-order on paper, but Harbhajan made short work of Eoin Morgan, out-thinking the left-hander and knocking out middle-stump as the left-hander tried to cut one that went on with the arm.
When Bairstow also went in Chawla’s first over, missing a googly, there were uncomfortable echoes of England’s travails in the sub-continent and Asia for much of last winter.
Opener Craig Kieswetter had clubbed two early sixes off pace but edged a Chawla leg-break to slip and Tim Bresnan picked out deep square-leg with a sweep at Harbhajan.
England had gone from 39 for two after five overs, before the introduction of spin, to 54 for six after 10.
A recovery was highly unlikely, and did not materialise, England all out for 80 in only the 15th over – eight runs short of their previous worst total in this format. But the outcome had been easily predictable long before then.
The defeat, and even the margin of it, has no direct relevance to England’s prospects of retaining the only International Cricket Council global trophy they have ever won.
But, in Pallekele on Thursday, against either West Indies or Ireland, they will quickly need to erase the bad memories.
Earlier, New Zealand progressed to the Super Eights stage despite suffering a 13-run defeat to Pakistan in Pallekele.
Mohammed Hafeez’s side ran up 177 for six with Nasir Jamshed claiming four sixes in a confident 56, with New Zealand responding valiantly to post 164 for 9, but the Black Caps were unable to emulate the swashbuckling batting of their opponents.
Despite the loss, New Zealand qualify for the Super Eights on net run rate, while Pakistan will confirm their own progression with victory over Bangladesh tomorrow.