England's under-cooked team were roasted in the heat as not even Kevin Pietersen's latest heroics could avoid one-day international series defeat to India.

Pietersen battled the intense humidity at the Nehru Stadium to hit a defiant 77 but his departure sparked an all-too-familiar slump from a group missing key personnel.

There was no doubt Pietersen's dismissal was the turning point in the four-wicket defeat and it was brought about by some tactical ingenuity from India captain Rahul Dravid.

Knowing the energy-sapping nature of the humidity here - Dravid had to have a saline drip administered following his hundred against Pakistan last winter - the second power play was delayed until the 29th over, with immediate dividends.

With the fielding restrictions in place, Pietersen attempted to dissect the two men in the deep with a sweep at off-spinner Harbhajan Singh but top-edged to square-leg.

"Having batted here a few times myself before I know that once you have got to 60 or 70 it is very hard to keep concentrating," said Dravid. "Because of Pietersen's quality he is never easy to stop, especially when you have the power plays, so I held them back hoping he would get really tired.

"We hoped for an error because of exhaustion and it really paid off."

He was not the only one playing the waiting game as Pietersen, returning after missing the third defeat of four in Goa through a stomach bug, eyed up some bighitting overs alongside captain Andrew Flintoff.

"I was waiting for those power plays and it was my intention to kick-on when they came," said Pietersen. "I played within myself to get to them and to get out in the first over was a little bit silly.

"It was really warm, the hottest day I have played on this tour. I have played a few club games back in Durban which have been there or thereabouts in terms of temperature.

"But I am not 100% fit at the moment, I am still feeling it in my tummy but I really wanted to play. It was a case of getting on with the job, I hate missing internationals, so after Goa there was no way I would sit out again."

England can ill afford to be without the reigning International Cricket Council's one-day player of the year: he has now top-scored in half of his 20 innings for England and has a half-century conversion rate of one in every two visits to the crease.

Promoted to number three in a reshuffled top order, he struck two sixes and six fours in his 82-ball effort, the culmination of which began a slump from 153 for three to 237 all out.

Flintoff followed in the next over when he chipped to midwicket and India's quartet of spinners left the lower order gasping for breath.

To add to the grimaces, Geraint Jones strained a thigh and had to bat with Andrew Strauss as runner; he did so commendably, denied his half-century by one run at the death as the second run-out victim of the innings. Matt Prior took over wicketkeeping duties for India's reply, which caused more discomfort for the tourists.

Flintoff, who gave his all with the ball once more to finish with two for 33, succumbed to cramp in the final hour, moments before Matthew Hoggard wore a return drive from teenager Suresh Raina on the chin.

Dravid laid the foundations for victory in typical fashion on a batting surface which left Flintoff with no second thought when the coin came down tails side up first thing in the morning.

But the Indians were given minor jitters when he fell for 65, in yet another delayed power play, to spark a mini-collapse.

Three wickets went down for 22 runs to leave India 152 for four but Yuvraj Singh emphasised his current standing in the limited-overs game with another finelyjudged innings.

Yuvraj dominated a stand of 72 with Raina to get the hosts to within 14 of their target and James Anderson's double success in one over could not detract from another comprehensive win for the hosts.

Suddenly the euphoria of England's third Test victory in Mumbai seems a long time past and the absence of captain Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick at the top of the order is weighing heavy.

"They fought really hard in the Test matches and used a lot of energy to draw the series," said Dravid. "Bombay was critical for us psychologically and the way the boys bounced back was a credit to us.

"It has been hard for England but you cannot have sympathy at international level for anyone because you are often on the receiving end yourself. The scoreline of 4-0 looks easy but there have been times in the series when England have had a chance - even today they could have got 260-270 and we might have struggled - but we have always fought back under pressure."

It was India's 15th consecutive victory when chasing a target, which is the best sequence in one-day international history.

England, meanwhile, were left to sweat over the prospect of a 7-0 whitewash unless they can improve rapidly over the next week.