Sam Curran played the innings of a lifetime as he narrowly failed to drag England back from the brink in their one-day decider against India.
Already beaten in the Test and Twenty20 legs, England’s seven-run defeat meant a clean sweep of defeats in all formats on tour but Curran’s improbable rescue job from number eight turned a lost cause into a nail-biting finale.
England were 168 for six chasing 330 when he walked to the crease, but he showed scant regard for the oppressive match situation as he heaved his way to a remarkable 95 not out.
The 22-year-old’s previous best in ODIs was just 15, while his highest score in any white-ball cricket stood at 57. And yet, after being dropped in costly fashion by Hardik Pandya on just 22 he refused to be stopped.
With only the tail for company he set up a 50th-over shootout but could not clear the final hurdle as Thangarasu Natarajan prevented the two big hits England needed for glory.
They finished with 322 for nine, with Curran desperately close to finishing a Ben Stokes-level fightback.
The vast majority of his counter-attack seemed certain to do little more than mitigate the margin of defeat, but over-by-over and blow-by-blow the equation became more and more realistic as India’s fielding wilted under pressure.
In the end he needed 14 off the last six balls but could only take six as Natarajan finished well to secure a 2-1 series win for India.
Just 48 hours after breezing to a target of 337, England will have fancied their chances after taking all 10 Indian wickets for 329.
Their heavy-hitting top three were key to that pursuit but here lasted little more than 10 overs.
Openers Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow are among the best double acts around but, after back-to-back century stands, Bhuvneshwar Kumar picked up both with the new ball. Roy drove his first two balls for four before a big inswinger did for him and Bairstow shuffled in front of his stumps to go lbw for one.
Bhuvneshwar should have had Stokes too, but Hardik shelled a simple catch when he had just 15. Stokes added another 20 runs after that reprieve but, when he swatted Natarajan’s full toss out straight to deep square, Hardik’s show of relief – dropping to the turf and bowing – told its own story.
Shardul Thakur’s spell through the middle appeared to settled the matter in India’s favour as he took four wickets to tear the heart out several tentative fightbacks.
Jos Buttler was lbw for just 15, Liam Livingstone caught and bowled for a promising 36, Dawid Malan steered a short ball to mid-wicket for a calm run-a-ball fifty and Kohli’s wonderful diving catch accounted for Adil Rashid.
The last hope appeared to go when Bhuvneshwar removed the clean-hitting Moeen, but Curran refused to let it lie. Dropped on 22 by Hardik he wheeled away, seemingly in vain, towards a maiden half-century.
Even then India seemed calm but his ball-striking became cleaner by the minute as multiple bowling changes from Kohli failed to stem the tide. The onus was squarely on him with Wood a modest supporting act and he wore it well, scoring nine fours and three sixes while also farming the strike.
England briefly looked like favourites when both batsmen were spilled off skiers in the 49th over, but Curran met his match in Natarajan at the final moment.
India had been sent in and although they lost regular wickets, a hat-trick of half-centuries from Rishabh Pant (78), Shikhar Dhawan and Hardik meant they kept the scoreboard ticking at a lively pace.
Dhawan and Rohit Sharma took 65 off the first 10 overs, a serious improvement on previous efforts of 39 and 41, and raced away to 100 in just 14 overs. That is the kind of base that monster totals spring from, but England were able to flip the script with three wickets in quick time.
Rashid had an expensive day, conceding 81 runs as his length wavered, but he made a priceless double strike to remove both openers with undetected googlies.
Moeen joined in next, ending a six-match wicketless streak with the prize scalp of Kohli. The India skipper aimed an elaborate swish into the off-side but lost his shape and his leg stump as the ball bit hard off the surface.
At the halfway stage India’s momentum had further stalled at 158 for four – KL Rahul dismissed by Livingstone’s second ball in international cricket, a rank full toss.
But in Pant and Hardik, India had two happy hitters bulging with confidence. Together they smashed 99 in just 73 balls, including a healthy dose of sixes. Wood, despite visibly losing his battle with sickness, roused himself to take three late wickets to bring an early end to the first innings.
At that stage the drama that lay ahead had yet to be scripted but the winning runs had already been scored.