First days for an opposition captain in India don’t get much worse. Kevin Pietersen’s decision to field because of an early morning start in Rajkot backfired spectacularly as India galloped out of the blocks and never looked back. What seemed a brave decision turned into an utter disaster with India posting 387 for 5 in 50 overs of ballistic strokeplay. Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag added 127 for the first wicket, after which Yuvraj Singh overcame a stiff back to slam an unbeaten 138 from only 78 balls. It was the fastest ODI hundred against England, while India’s total beat the previous best against this team – Pakistan’s 353 in Karachi in 2005. It was also India’s best total at home and second highest anywhere.
The last time Yuvraj scored a hundred in a limited-overs game was on October 5 2007 against Australia. He dismissed that drought with a magnificent innings. Yuvraj began in the 24th over, after Sehwag had been brilliantly caught by Ian Bell at midwicket for a 73-ball 85. Shortly into his innings, Yuvraj had problems with his back and needed a brace. Steve Harmison decided to test him with some short balls and, though Yuvraj took his eyes off them, he pulled consecutive boundaries and rounded off the over with a steer past slip for four more. Those three strokes set the tone.
India took the third Powerplay after the 34th over, a move which prompted Pietersen to bring back Andrew Flintoff. Yuvraj, who had Gambhir running for him, took the opportunity to break free by hitting sixes off Flintoff and Harmison before raising his fifty with a classy off drive. Yuvraj’s partnership with Raina for the third wicket had added 89 off 78 balls before his partner scooped Flintoff to Paul Collingwood at backward point for 43. Yusuf Pathan came and went for 0, pulling his second ball to midwicket. Yuvraj, not disturbed by the double blow, stood his ground and swatted a wayward Broad for six and four and brought up the 300 – and the fifty partnership with Mahendra Singh Dhoni – by smashing Samit Patel out of the ground in the 44th over.
A 20-year-old Indian record for the fastest century (Mohammad Azharuddin’s 62-ball ton against New Zealand) was under threat but Yuvraj was probably unaware and turned the ball off his pads for a single when he was on 94 off 61 balls. He reached his ninth hundred off his 64th ball but he wasn’t done. He lofted Flintoff for two sixes in the 47th over and took another 18 off him in the 49th. Yuvraj’s 138 was one shy of his career best.
The platform for Yuvraj’s blitz, however, had been by India’s openers early in the day. There is no margin for error when bowling to Sehwag, especially on a quick outfield, and he flicked James Anderson and Broad towards the square-leg boundary when they strayed on to his pads. And when Broad offered the slightest bit of room outside off stump, third man retrieved the ball from the boundary.
After 15 quiet deliveries, Gambhir walked down and lifted Anderson over mid-on. He then hit Broad for three fours in the sixth over, the gentlest of open-faced steers – which took him past 2000 ODI runs – sandwiched between slaps down the ground. The understanding between the two Delhi batsmen was further evident with some smart tip-and-runs as well.
India had made 53 in ten overs and Pietersen took the second Powerplay immediately. After three overs from Flintoff, Pietersen turned to Patel’s left-arm spin in the 13th over. Sehwag gave Patel no respect, hitting consecutive boundaries. The second Powerplay cost 40 runs. Collingwood, playing his 150th ODI, took the ball after the drinks break and Sehwag slammed his first two balls for six. The second shot, a disdainful sweep into the stands at midwicket, raised his fifty, from 44 balls, and India’s 200.
Gambhir followed Sehwag to fifty, from 59 balls, but became the first casualty. Dancing down to Patel, he holed out to Owais Shah at long-off. Sehwag smashed Patel for 15 runs off four balls in the 24th over before he was splendidly caught by Bell. England needed something extraordinary to stop Sehwag, but failed to keep Yuvraj quiet.