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Harbhajan Singh spins his web as England lose dead rubber against India

England's Jonny Bairstow, left, loses his wicket as India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, right, looks on during a ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Cup match between England and India in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe) England's Jonny Bairstow, left, loses his wicket as India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, right, looks on during a ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Cup match between England and India in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Sunday, September 23, 2012
6:28 PM

England faltered alarmingly to Harbhajan Singh’s off-spin on the way to their lowest Twenty20 international total and heaviest defeat at the Premadasa Stadium tonight.

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A hard-working performance with the ball helped Stuart Broad’s team restrict India’s stroke-players and power-hitters to 170 for four after he had chosen to bowl first under lights in this final ICC World Twenty20 Group A match.

But in a contest of little tangible consequence for two teams already through to the Super Eight stage, defending champions England lost two early wickets to left-arm seamer Irfan Pathan and then repeated their worrying history of haplessness against sub-continental spin.

Harbhajan, who spent time with Essex in the summer, finished with Twenty20 international career-best figures of four for 12, as he and leg-spinner Piyush Chawla wreaked havoc to set up India’s 90-run victory.

Rohit Sharma had top-scored with an unbeaten 55 from 33 balls, including five fours and a last-over six over point off the expensive Jade Dernbach.

But Graeme Swann - the only spinner selected by England - bowled well as India threatened to cut loose with the bat but never quite did.

They promoted Pathan to open in place of the rested Virender Sehwag, but the left-hander was undone by Steven Finn’s extra pace when he was bowled in only the third over.

Number three Virat Kohli played according to his reputation - brilliantly - in a second-wicket stand of 57 with Gautam Gambhir, until Swann capped a fine spell by having him caught at deep midwicket by Jonny Bairstow for a high-class 40 from 31 balls.

Gambhir was unable to keep up that momentum in his anchor brief as Swann ruled the middle overs.

But by the time the opener was caught-behind slogging at Finn for 45 from 38 balls, the springboard was nonetheless still in place for India’s cleanest hitters to cash in.

Rohit was already established and stuck largely to orthodox cricket shots.

Broad would have run him out for 32 with a direct hit, one of a clutch of minor fielding misdemeanours from England.

But as India attempted to apply the pressure - to significant, but not devastating, effect - Jos Buttler’s wonderful piece of skill and quick thinking on the wide long-on boundary kept another six off the total and cut short Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s accustomed late surge.

Buttler somehow stayed in the field of play as he caught the ball and ferried it to nearby outrider Alex Hales to complete a memorable dismissal - and surely boost England morale to boot.

The high did not last long for Hales, though, missing a heave to leg at Pathan to be bowled for a duck.

In-form number three Luke Wright got off the mark by hitting Pathan for a six over long-off, only to go lbw to the next ball when he missed an attempted pull.

England still had a powerhouse middle-order on paper, but Harbhajan made short work of Eoin Morgan, out-thinking the left-hander and knocking out middle-stump as the left-hander tried to cut one that scuttled on with the arm.

When Bairstow also went in Chawla’s first over, smearing to leg and missing a googly, there were some uncomfortable echoes already of England’s travails in the sub-continent and Asia for much of last winter.

Opener Craig Kieswetter had clubbed two early sixes off pace but edged a Chawla leg-break to slip, and Tim Bresnan picked out deep square-leg with a sweep at Harbhajan.

England had gone from 39 for two after five overs, before the introduction of spin, to 54 for six after 10.

A recovery was highly unlikely, and did not materialise, before England were all out for 80 in only the 15th over - eight runs short of their previous-worst total in this format.

The outcome had been easily predictable long before then.

The defeat, and even the margin of it, has no direct relevance to England’s prospects of retaining the only International Cricket Council global trophy they have ever won.

But when they reconvene for their next assignment in Pallekele on Thursday, against either West Indies or Ireland, they will quickly need to erase some bad recent memories.

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