Whether it was great application against spin or the Merlyn machine - which was used by England ahead of the second Twenty20 International to simulate against the threat of Kuldeep Yadav - it worked wonders for the hosts. They kept the three-match series alive courtesy a five-wicket win against India on Friday (July 6) at the Sophia Gardens in Cardiff.
The game was largely set up by the bowlers who restricted the much-fancied tourists to 148 for 5. The bowling unit's effort was well backed up by Alex Hales (58 not out off 41), who strung crucial stands of 48 and 34 alongside Eoin Morgan (17) and Jonny Bairstow (28) respectively to safely take his side to the finishing line with two balls to spare.
India's major strength in white-ball cricket has been the outstanding form of their top order. But in Cardiff, they were stifled when Shikhar Dhawan (10), Rohit Sharma (5) and last match's centurion KL Rahul (6) were back in the shed just 29 balls into India's innings. At 22 for 3, the middle-order had loads of work to do. On the bright side, they had Virat Kohli, their best batsman, out in the middle and MS Dhoni still to bat. The top order slide meant that the tourists could tally only 31 runs in the first six overs - their worst Powerplay score in 744 days!
Kohli (47 off 38) began cautiously and, with Raina (27 off 20), started resurrecting the innings. By the time 10 overs were bowled, India huffed and puffed to 52 for 3. Adil Rashid, the legspinner, was causing problems with his variations but Kohli broke the shackles in the 11th over when he struck the 30-year-old for a four and a six to get a move on. Raina then hoicked Jake Ball, the debutant, over deep mid-wicket which gave India 16 off three balls, just the right kind of injection in momentum they needed at that stage. In quest of quick runs, Raina was stumped seven balls later, deceived by a wrong'un by Rashid, leaving India in deep waters at 79 for 4 in the 13th over.
Kohli's innings gathered momentum but Dhoni (32 not out off 24) took a while to get going. The former Indian captain, however, picked up the pace and, alongside Hardik Pandya (12 not out), added 37 runs for the fifth wicket, 33 of them coming in the final two overs. Ball bowled the final over and repeatedly made the mistake of bowling at length which enabled Dhoni to hammer three fours. India finished with a flourish as 22 runs came off the over.
With the kind of form England are in at the moment, 149 was never going to be a challenge. The first few overs followed a similar pattern. India repeatedly dished out short deliveries, which were pulled with disdain by Jason Roy. Every time they pitched up, the English batsmen found it hard to negate them and yet Umesh was guilty of digging it in every now and again.
After scything three crisp boundaries, Roy (15) took the long walk back to the dressing room when he missed an in-ducker from Umesh Yadav (2 for 36) which went through the gate to rattle his middle stump. Jos Buttler tried to break free before he was offered a life by Virat Kohli, who dropped a sitter at mid-off. Buttler went for the encore two balls later and this time the Indian skipper held on to it giving India a sniff.
Yuzvendra Chahal (1 for 28) saw the back of Joe Root as England looked set to stumble against spin yet again. Hales, who batted at No. 4, looked accomplished against both Chahal and Kuldeep. He sat back and played them off the back foot to pick their variations. Whenever the ball was tossed up and was in his arc, he didn't think twice before giving it a proper whack. While Hales was going about his business smartly, Morgan struggled to remain abreast of the challenge. He thumped Kuldeep (0 for 34) over his head but was picked out in the next over by Umesh - courtesy a spectacular catch at fine leg by Dhawan.
Bairstow (28 off 18) came in with a positive mindset which helped England to keep going hard at India. With the required run rate nudging 10, Bairstow's twin strikes off consecutive deliveries in the 17th over took England almost to the brink. In the end, Hales finished off the job on his own as he hammered Bhuvneshwar Kumar (1 for 19) for a huge six and followed it up with a fine tickle behind square on the leg side - both off consecutive deliveries in the final over of the game which sealed to contest for Morgan and his troops.