London: Ronnie Irani was the star of the show as England beat India by 64 runs in their 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 slumped to 165 all out. 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 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 32 overs per side contest. 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. Only Virender Sehwag (46) and Sachin Tendulkar (36) were able to resist. Anil Kumble (21 not out), batting with a runner, and Nehra provided some tail-end heroics but it was Irani's day. India had already lost captain Ganguly (six) when Irani struck with his third ball.
Sehwag, trying to steer the ball down to third man, edged and saw veteran wicket-keeper Alec Stewart, standing up to the stumps, take the catch.Sehwag had faced 41 balls including one six and eight fours, India 62 for two in the 10th over. But his departure slowed India's progress and in the 15th over it was 78 for three. Venkatsai Laxman (14), in his first match of the series, saw frustration get the better of him as he skied medium-pacer Paul Collingwood to Matthew Hoggard at mid-off. Irani and Stewart then combined again to dismiss the dangerous Yuvraj Singh (five) in controversial fashion. Stewart appealed for a stumping off a wide because even though Yuvraj's back foot was behind the crease, it could have been in the air when the stumps were broken. The decision was handed over to third umpire Neil Mallender, the Englishman taking several minutes to give Yuvraj out even though replays did not appear conclusive.
And Irani's day just got better when he then reduced India to 114 for five, clean bowling Mohammad Kaif for one run between bat and pad. Then, in his final over, Irani struck twice. First he had Ajay Ratra (two) caught behind by Stewart and two balls later Ajit Agarkar (nought) turned a ball off his legs straight to Collingwood at mid-wicket and India was 118 for seven. Tendulkar had watched all this from the other end and, running out of partners, and in the next over he was caught behind off Hoggard for 36. Tendulkar's 29 ball innings included five fours but at 120 for eight the game was up. Earlier all-rounders Irani and Andrew Flintoff (51) were the major contributors to England's total of 229 for eight. The pair put on 67 for the third wicket, Flintoff facing 38 balls including one six and six fours and Irani batting for 55 balls including one six and two fours before he was bowled by leg spinner Kumble.