Another series defeat for England in India but that bald fact reveals nothing of the drama that unfolded in Pune on Sunday as Sam Curran came agonisingly close to pulling off one of the greatest and most unlikely of run chases.
England looked dead and buried in the one-day decider when they crashed to 200 for seven and then 257 for eight chasing 330 to win this deciding 50-over international and seal their first one-day series triumph in India since 1984.
But, with just the tail for company, Curran masterminded an astonishing counter-attack from No 8 that saw him guide England slowly but surely towards a glorious conclusion to a tour of so much red and white ball frustration.
Sam Curran (right) hit a brilliant 95* but it was not enough as England lost the third ODI
India held their nerve to win the third ODI and finished the tour with series wins in all formats
It looked like Curran would pull it off, too, when Mark Wood helped him whittle the target down to 14 from the last over but Thangarasu Natarajan held his nerve as England fell eight short and Curran was left stranded five away from his maiden century in any professional cricket. And to think his highest one-day score before yesterday was 15.
What tension there was at the end of a long final day of this long and eventful tour and how England were helped by the most calamitous fielding as pressure took hold, four catches going down as India came close to losing the plot.
Yet ultimately a chase that should have been within England’s reach but then became close to impossible ended in nail-biting narrow failure and they were forced to contemplate defeat in the Test, Twenty20 and 50-over series.
Curran showed superb maturity throughout his knock but could not get England over the line
It looked like being far worse for them when Curran, who has had a quiet time in India, emerged at 168 for six after England’s batting stand-ins in Dawid Malan and Liam Livingstone had kept them in the hunt after the failure of the big guns to fire.
And it would have been all over had the younger Curran gone when Hardik Pandya, who had earlier dropped a dolly to reprieve Ben Stokes on 15, spilled him on the boundary on 22.
How he took advantage of that stroke of good fortune. Curran had seen both Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid depart before he was joined by Wood, who had earlier battled his way through seven whole-hearted overs despite seemingly suffering from sickness.
Together they preyed on India’s nerves and made England favourites when they took 18 off the last over bowled by Shardul Thakur, who had taken four wickets with his cutters.
That left them with 23 to get off three overs and they kept on riding their luck, Wood being given out lbw on 13 but being reprieved by technology and then both batsmen being dropped in a 49th over that saw India visibly wilting.
England captain Jos Buttler fell for 15 as England looked set to fall to a much heavier defeat
But the inexperienced yorker specialist Natarajan, one of the culpable fielders in dropping Curran on 87, gave him little to hit in a final over in which Wood was run out. The series, just about, once again belonged to Virat Kohli.
India had looked set for a huge score when they raced to 100 in the 14th over without loss but the introduction of spin in the form of the tried and trusted Rashid and Moeen and a newcomer in Livingstone checked their progress.
Firstly Rashid took two wickets with his googly, producing a beauty to bowl Rohit Sharma and claiming a return catch off Shikhar Dhawan.
Then Moeen bowled Kohli and was rewarded with the same bemused look from the Indian captain that greeted an identical mode of dismissal in the second Test at Chennai. He was Moeen’s first ODI victim in over a year, following six wicketless matches.
Moeen Ali looked in good touch while at the crease but he could not stay with Sam Curran
Their success encouraged stand-in captain Jos Buttler to give Livingstone the chance to prove he could take wickets at international level with his mixture of leg and off-spin. But it was a full toss with just his second ball that saw KL Rahul well caught by Moeen at short fine leg.
Any hopes England had of facing a modest target were then dashed by Rishabh Pant, the most exciting batsman of this tour in all formats, and Hardik in a stand of 99 in 70 balls that again had India aspiring to the dizzy heights of 400-plus.
It took a sharp one-handed reaction catch from Buttler off Curran to get rid of Pant and Hardik was bowled round his legs by Ben Stokes before Wood, seemingly struggling in the Pune heat and humidity, stepped up to muster one last huge effort.
Wood, who had spent a large chunk of the India innings off the field and was constantly taking on fluids, returned to take three wickets and ensured India could not use up their 50 overs, being dismissed for 329 with 10 balls wasted.
Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan got India off to a flyer with a century stand within 15 overs
Those lost deliveries looked like proving costly for India when Curran was enjoying the innings of his life but it was not to be for an England side who at least hold on to their status as the No1 ranked 50-over side in the world with this 2-1 series defeat.
It has been a chastening tour for them but this India side are a formidable force who just about deserved this final example of their superiority in all three formats.
But England will be confident of gaining revenge when they host India in a five-Test series this summer – and of being one of the strongest contenders in the T20 and 50-over World Cups that will come in India later this year and in 2023.
Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya put on a blistering 99 run partnership for India’s fifth wicket