Chris Waters: How England finally got the better of India this winter

England's Jonny Bairstow.
England's Jonny Bairstow.
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AT the eighth time of asking in a winter of woe, England beat India in a game of cricket.

After weeks and weeks of trying, they got there in the end.

England have certainly been trying these past few weeks – sometimes in more ways than one.

But no one could doubt their fighting spirit as they ended a run of six straight defeats with a five-run victory in the third and final one-day international in Kolkata.

On a nerve-jangling night at Eden Gardens, scene of their World T20 heartbreak last April, when West Indies’ Carlos Brathwaite hit Ben Stokes for four sixes in the last over, England walked off much happier this time after defending 321.

When Chris Woakes was thumped for six and four over cover from the first two balls of the final over, from which 16 runs were wanted, it looked as 
hough history was going to repeat itself.

But those were the last runs that India managed as Woakes responded with four dot-balls, including the key wicket of Kedar Jadhav from the penultimate one.

When Jadhav was caught at deep cover by Sam Billings, it meant that Bhuvneshwar Kumar had to hit the last delivery for six, but the pace bowler was unable to make contact as he swung and missed outside off-stump.

For Stokes, there was redemption of sorts at the ground where he experienced his lowest moments nine months ago.

His unbeaten 57 from 39 balls with four fours and two sixes helped England raise a competitive 321-8 in testing conditions, a total which also featured half-centuries from Jason Roy (65) and Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow (56).

Then, with the ball, Stokes 
returned England’s best figures of 3-63 from 10 overs, keeping his nerve when the pressure was on.

Named as man-of-the-match, it was a fitting way to mark his 50th one-day international appearance.

India, who won the first one-day international in Pune by three wickets and the second in Cuttack by 15 runs, have been the better side throughout the winter.

Indeed, after England began the five-match Test series before Christmas with the better of a drawn game in Rajkot, they lost the next four matches by colossal margins.

There is clearly much work to do before they next go back to the sub-continent, but their one-day cricket lately has generally been good.

Considering that yesterday’s conditions were not unlike those in England, with the ball moving and nipping about, it was a victory that augured well for the Champions Trophy here in June, when the hosts will be strongly fancied to go all the way.

Despite a largely chastening couple of months, England are indeed capable of doing just that and winning their first world one-day trophy.

Their batting line-up is as strong and as exciting as it has ever been, to the extent that Bairstow and Billings are not guaranteed starters.

They have match-winners throughout the top order and players to rank with the best in the world.

Their bowling is much more of a work in progress, but the key thing is that England are making one-day progress.

Results since the 2015 World Cup have picked up markedly, for which the coaching team of Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace deserve credit, along with captain Eoin Morgan.

Morgan ended a disappointing run of form with a courageous century in the second one-day international and then an innings of 43 yesterday, which helped reassert his personal authority.

His right to a place in the team had been questioned but, much like his side, he has character aplenty.

Criticised for his decision not to tour Bangladesh due to security concerns, Morgan is in a much happier place than he was even a week ago.

Morgan’s return to form was timely for him, given that Bairstow and Billings are knocking down the door, with both equipping themselves well yesterday having done well in the warm-up matches too.

With Alex Hales injured and Joe Root nursing a groin niggle, they showed England’s depth yesterday, with Bairstow confirmed as Hales’s replacement for the three-match T20 series that starts on Thursday.