London: Ronnie Irani was the star of the show as England beat India by 64 runs in its triangular tournament One-day International at The Oval on Tuesday.
Irani, out of international cricket for five years before this series, tore the heart out of India's innings, taking career best One-day International figures of five for 26 as Saurav Ganguly's men suffered their first defeat of the tournament. And, in what was a dress rehearsal for Saturday's tournament final between these countries at Lord's, Essex all-rounder Irani top scored with 53, his first half century at this level, in England's 229 for eight.
Irani later finished the match by catching Ashish Nehra (24) on the long-on boundary off Alex Tudor, leaving India 165 all out with 17 balls remaining. What made Irani's bowling figures all the more impressive was that the 30-year-old medium pacer was limited to seven overs after rain had reduced the game to a 32 overs per side contest. "It was nice, that's probably an understatement," said Irani. "I'm over the moon. I wanted to nail one, I wanted a big performance."
Irani's final three wickets fell in a five-ball spell that saw no runs scored off the Essex captain. His final analysis was 7-1-26-5. "The key to my bowling is accuracy. They've got so many great players, Ganguly, Dravid and Tendulkar, you've got to try to make them play unorthodox shots," he added. Irani said the moment that gave him most pleasure was when he caught Nehra.
"Victory means so much when you are playing for England. I am an England fan. I've been out for five years and every England match during that time I've wanted them to win." But asked about his World Cup chances in the light of this performance, Irani was blunt. "It would be unprofessional of me to talk about that. You are only as good as your next game and the focus on Saturday is absolute."
England captain Nasser Hussain, a county colleague of Irani's, said, "I see this day in day out at a slightly lower level. He (Irani) might not be the most technically correct but at this level it is about how much character and bottle you have that will decide how successful you will be."