A combative spinner making his comeback to the blue shade after a year’s hiatus and a young batsman trying to cement his place combined wonderfully well to help India defeat England by 90 runs in an ICC World Twenty20 Group A match at the R. Premadasa Stadium here on Sunday.
Harbhajan Singh’s four for 12 and Rohit Sharma’s unbeaten 55 (33b, 5x4, 1x6) provided the perfect platform for India to stun England into submission and top the group. Chasing India’s 170 for four, England collapsed to 80 in 14.4 overs.
Harbhajan last played for India in the second Test against England at Nottingham in August 2011. Since then, poor form and injury woes had left the off-spinner grappling for a toehold.
A stint in the English counties and innumerable days later, he winged his way back to the Indian squad and England again played a key role in his cricketing journey as Harbhajan’s spell derailed Stuart Broad’s men on Sunday.
Irfan Pathan made early inroads, scalping Alex Hales and Luke Wright, and once Harbhajan castled Eoin Morgan — the southpaw tried to cut a delivery that was too close to his body — there was a buzz in the Indian ranks.
That wicket in his very first over gave a huge fillip to the spinner, and with Piyush Chawla too bringing his leg-breaks into play, England was cornered.
Chawla cleaned up Jonny Bairstow and also nailed Craig Kieswetter, England’s top-scorer for the day.
Harbhajan bowled unchanged and his line that threatened the stumps completely unsettled the English batsmen.
They beat a steady retreat much to the delight of the Indians while the comeback hero flung his hands heavenwards in thanks. Earlier, Rohit infused some belated energy to the Indian innings before the finish line. Rohit’s knock — as is always the case when he is on song — had elegance written all over it.
When he turned the face of the bat a touch late and swatted Jade Dernbach for six over point in the last over, it revealed the gift of timing he innately possesses.
That strike in the last over, which went for 17 runs, was part of India’s delayed flourish after much of its innings was marked by a steady trot rather than a gallop.
Ahead of the match, India effected three changes with Harbhajan, Piyush and Ashok Dinda replacing Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and R. Ashwin.
And once Stuart Broad opted to field, Gambhir and Irfan strode out as India’s opening pair.
Unlike his recent diffidence at the crease, Gambhir (45) looked more assured, as was evident in the fours — a pull and a dab — he struck off Dernbach.
At the other end, Irfan struggled and lost his timber to speedster Steven Finn.
Gambhir then allied with Virat Kohli (40) and took the innings forward at a steady clip.
In the midst of a rich vein of form, Kohli’s batting rhythm was top-notch.
He cover drove Finn for four and played shots that reflected power and grace.
Meanwhile, despite the odd four, Gambhir inexplicably failed to slot in the higher gear, and the scoring rate dropped once Graeme Swann stepped in and dismissed Kohli.
It was then left to Rohit to be the pivot around which the Indian innings revolved.
He did not disappoint on a night that was truly remarkable for him and Harbhajan.
India: G. Gambhir c Kieswetter b Finn 45 (38b, 5x4), Irfan b Finn 8 (8b, 1x4), V. Kohli c Bairstow b Swann 40 (32b, 6x4), Rohit (not out) 55 (33b, 5x4, 1x6), M.S. Dhoni c Hales b Bresnan 9 (8b, 1x4), S. Raina (not out) 1 (1b); Extras (b-1, lb-3, w-8): 12; Total (for four wkts. in 20 overs): 170.
Fall of wickets: 1-24 (Irfan), 2-81 (Kohli), 3-119 (Gambhir), 4-166 (Dhoni).
England bowling: Finn 4-0-33-2, Dernbach 4-0-45-1, Broad 4-0-36-0, Bresnan 4-0-35-0, Swann 4-0-17-1.
England: C. Kieswetter c Kohli b Chawla 35 (25b, 4x4, 2x6), A. Hales b Irfan 0 (2b), L. Wright lbw b Irfan 6 (4b, 1x6), E. Morgan b Harbhajan 2 (6b), J. Bairstow b Chawla 1 (8b), J. Buttler b Harbhajan 11 (12b, 1x4), T. Bresnan c Gambhir b Harbhajan 1 (8b), S. Broad c Gambhir b Dinda 3 (3b), G. Swann st. Dhoni b Harbhajan 0 (3b), S. Finn (not out) 8 (10b, 1x4), J. Dernbach (run out) 12 (7b, 2x4); Extras (w-1): 1; Total (all out in 14.4 overs): 80.
Fall of wickets: 1-2 (Hales), 2-18 (Wright), 3-39 (Morgan), 4-42 (Bairstow), 5-51 (Kieswetter), 6-54 (Bresnan), 7-60 (Buttler), 8-60 (Swann), 9-60 (Broad).
India bowling: Irfan 3-0-17-2, Balaji 1-0-10-0, Dinda 2-0-26-1, Harbhajan 4-2-12-4, Piyush 4-1-13-2, Yuvraj 0.4-0-2-0. Man-of-the-match: Harbhajan Singh.
Keywords: Twenty20 World Cup