At last a Twenty20 international won by the team batting first, but how close England came on Thursday to upsetting India and pulling off a dramatic last-gasp victory.
Instead India just about bucked the trend in this series to scramble over the line in this fourth game and set up a decider on Saturday, in what could easily be a dress rehearsal for the World Cup final in Ahmedabad later this year.
It may have taken four hours and 17 minutes for India to complete this eight-run win and square the series, but few who watched it play out at an empty Narendra Modi Stadium from afar would have complained about the sluggish over rate.
India set up a T20 series decider against England with a nervy eight-run victory on Thursday
Shardul Thakur changed game by dismissing Ben Stokes and Eoin Morgan in successive balls
England all-rounder Stokes hit some brutal shots but fell four short of a deserved half-century
Jofra Archer smashed Shardul Thakur for four and then six in a final over England began needing 23 to win, and then saw the bowler follow up with two wides to boost hopes they could somehow pull off a series-clinching victory.
But, with a hobbling India captain Virat Kohli watching anxiously from the sidelines, Thakur regained his composure and conceded just one run from his final three balls and took the wicket of Chris Jordan.
In truth, India deserved it after unleashing yet another of their exciting IPL-inspired talents in Suryakumar Yadav on England and seeing him smash 57 off 31 balls to challenge the batting second logic in night matches in India.
It still looked as though England’s chasing expertise would again prove decisive when Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow added 65 off 36 balls.
But when both were dismissed in successive balls by Thakur to leave England needing 46 off 22, the game was almost up.
The England all-rounder shared a 65-run partnership with Jonny Bairstow (right) on Thursday
‘One of us had to be there at the end,’ said Stokes after falling one run short of his best T20 score on 46.
‘In an ideal world we’d have loved to go into the next game having won the series, but the next game is a final now and that’s great for us as a team.’
From the moment Rohit Sharma struck the first ball of the match from Adil Rashid for six, it was clear this was a much better Ahmedabad pitch.
No one used the conditions better than Yadav, who made his India debut in the second T20 international without batting, and now made his introduction in the most extraordinary fashion.
Only New Zealand’s Mark Craig and Pakistan’s Sohail Tanvir had hit a six off their first ball in international cricket before but here Yadav pulled Archer with elan high into the empty stands.
It was a typical piece of audacity from the latest of the seemingly endless supply of exciting talents on the India production line, Yadav racing to a stylish 50 off 28 balls.
Jason Roy continued his fine form in the series with 40 before he was caught in the deep
Jofra Archer ensured it was a nervy ending in the final over but India held firm
But his innings ended in controversial fashion when Sam Curran was introduced for the 14th over. His first ball disappeared over fine leg swept for six but his second, from the same Yadav shot, found Dawid Malan running in.
It looked a clean catch at full pace but Malan tumbled forward as he grasped the ball, leading on-field umpire Nitin Menon to call on his TV colleague for confirmation and, crucially, giving his soft signal as out.
Four minutes’ worth of camera angles proved inconclusive for TV umpire Virender Sharma, so he had little option but to confirm the on-field guidance. And it looked the correct decision, too.
Not that Kohli, who expects to be fit for Saturday, agreed.
‘If the fielder doesn’t know if the catch is clean, I’m not sure how the square-leg umpire does,’ said the India captain.
‘We should look at the soft signal because these things can change games.’
Suryakumar Yadav hit a half-century on his debut innings for India as they posted 185-8
Yadav’s dismissal caused controversy regarding soft signals from on-field umpires for catches taken on the boundary
TV umpire Sharma was again in action in the last over of the India innings when Washington Sundar was caught on the boundary by Rashid, whose foot came perilously close to the boundary marker.
Again the soft signal was out, again Sharma did not have enough evidence to overturn, and again the decision was almost certainly right.
Archer, with four wickets, and the consistently rapid Mark Wood were again superb for England in the face of some dazzling strokeplay from Yadav and the dynamic duo of Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer.
Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant then hit scores in the 30s to see India post a competitive total
But it was not enough, with wickets falling too regularly once Jason Roy had launched England’s reply with his third score in the 40s in this series.
‘There was a lot more dew throughout the game and the conditions were different from any other match in the series,’ said England captain Eoin Morgan.
‘We just left ourselves too much to do at the end against a top quality side.’
England now have a chance to prove their mettle in a sudden-death decider back at the probable venue for October’s World Cup final.
It is a fitting end between the best two T20 sides in the world.
Archer (right) excelled with the ball once more, taking four wickets on the night