Alastair Cook had to accept that his England team were thoroughly outplayed by India, as they slumped to a crunching 126-run one-day international defeat last night.
From the moment Mahendra Singh Dhoni (87no) and Suresh Raina (55) took India’s batting powerplay at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, the complexion of the first of five ODI matches changed radically.
India blasted their way to 300-7 – a total which appeared well over par on a slow, low pitch.
So it proved as England, despite Cook’s own near run-a-ball 60 at the top of the order, failed to cope with a demanding scoring rate against the spin of Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin in difficult conditions.
“We were outplayed in all three departments. You don’t get close to winning a game when you do that,” said Cook, after his team had been bowled out for 174 in 36.1 overs.
“All three departments weren’t up to the standards we’ve shown in the past. That’s why we are on the back end of a heavy defeat.”
As Dhoni, Raina and Ravindra Jadeja upped the ante, England’s outfielding suffered.
“Those last 20 overs when we fielded, I think they scored 180 runs,” added Cook.
“It was 30 or 40 too many on that wicket.
“It was an important toss to win. As you saw, the pitch did misbehave (in England’s innings). But I’m not blaming that at all.”
Five wickets fell for only 23 runs, starting with Cook’s, to leave England 134-7in the 29th over – a collapse from which there could be no recovery. England were strangled by pace off the ball on a slow surface, with six wickets shared between left-armer Jadeja (3-34) and off-spinner Ashwin (3-35).
India’s top order had also found it hard to get going on a pitch which appeared to favour containing bowlers over attacking batsmen.
But Dhoni and Raina became sufficiently attuned to conditions to cash in with 59 runs for the loss of one wicket in a late batting powerplay, gathering enough momentum for India to blast another 92 off the last 10 overs.
Without a limited-overs series win here since 1984-85, England are out to follow up their 3-0 victory over the same opponents on home turf in last month’s NatWest Series.
But they did not help themselves by bowling 12 wides and Dhoni, Raina and Jadeja hit 16 fours and five sixes between them from 147 balls to turn what seemed set to be merely a near-par total into something much more challenging.
Jonathan Trott put down a regulation early chance at second slip off Steven Finn to spare opener Ajinkya Rahane on nought.
But Finn’s endeavour, and some good fortune, brought England an early wicket anyway when Rahane drove firmly back to the bowler, who stooped to deflect the ball onto the stumps with Parthiv Patel out of his ground backing up.
Gautam Gambhir hinted at fluency, but the opposite was true of Rahane, who spent 41 balls over his 15.
Graeme Swann, getting an earlier bowl than previously thanks to new playing conditions which delay the second powerplay, pulled off his old party trick of a wicket in his first over to put Rahane out of his misery.
He drew the diminutive opener out of his ground and beat him on the outside with an off-break which turned marginally for Craig Kieswetter to complete a straightforward stumping.
Virat Kohli, a centurion in his previous ODI against England in Cardiff and a star of the recently-concluded Champions League, buckled down with Gambhir.
But boundaries were very hard to come by – Kohli could not muster a single one off 63 balls – and Gambhir eventually went after he was bamboozled lbw by a slower-ball full-toss from Jade Dernbach.
Kohli waited for what he thought was the right ball for the big hit, but just failed to clear Kevin Pietersen, who took a fine catch on the long-off boundary off Samit Patel.
Raina had by then survived the tightest of third-umpire calls on 16, when he too could easily have been run out at the non-striker’s end but perhaps just grounded his bat before Patel deflected Kohli’s drive.
That narrow margin made a huge difference to a home innings which careered out of England’s control, even after Raina had miscued another attempted big hit at Finn to Jonny Bairstow at point.
The contradictory nature of proceedings was hard to fathom.
But when England’s chase began poorly as Kieswetter was undone by a touch of new-ball away swing from Praveen Kumar to be caught behind in only the third over, a context began to emerge.
Pietersen was soon just short of his ground when trying to scamper a single to mid-on, where Ashwin reacted swiftly with a direct hit. A stand of 71 between Cook and Trott gave England hope for the next 13 overs.
The England captain’s 50 came up at exactly a run a ball and featured some encouraging scoring options down the ground as well as his favoured outlets squarer of the wicket.
But from the moment he picked out deep midwicket off Jadeja, his team went into sharp and terminal decline.
Trott missed a sweep at Jadeja and was bowled, Ravi Bopara and Bairstow both went caught-and-bowled to spin and Tim Bresnan was stumped advancing to a leg-side wide from Ashwin.
The game was up and it did not take long to confirm the details of a wide-margin setback for England, with almost 14 overs unused.