NEW DELHI: The years were rolled back at the Brabourne stadium in Mumbai, as distant memories of the fabled clash between Mumbai and Australia came rushing back to the surface. Well, almost.
Realistically, it may have been impossible to replicate the atmosphere at the ground in 1998, when a star-studded Mumbai walloped Australia – besides denting Shane Warne’s confidence – on the back of Sachin Tendulkar’s maiden First Class double ton, even if Tendulkar himself returned from retirement for a day.
Nevertheless, MS Dhoni’s swansong as captain in an India shirt, albeit for India A, was rendered special by a vociferous crowd that lustily cheered for their skipper, which must have momentarily tricked England into believing that they were in the middle of an international match of grave importance. Only indicators of the fact that it was a dress rehearsal, were a manually operated scoreboard, a sponsor-less boundary skirting, and perhaps that a batsman opted to retire-out immediately after notching up a ton.
To the chagrin of those who remained seated for the credits, post Dhoni’s blockbuster, England’s extraordinary batting depth saw them home at a canter. However, there were a few takeaways for India, especially those vying for a spot in the XI, come the One-Day Internationals (ODIs).
Shikhar Dhawan stakes claim to open (63 off 84)
Possibly part of a three way shoot out for the opening slot, alongside KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane, Dhawan furthered his chances with a neatly constructed half-century. A blow to his left thumb in the second Test against New Zealand had sidelined Dhawan from the ODIs that followed as well as the Tests against England. However, after recovering from injury, form eluded the left-hander, as he failed to score a single fifty for Delhi in five Ranji Trophy outings. In fact, this was Dhawan’s first fifty in any form of cricket since a fighting 84 against West Indies in Antigua.
Yuvraj Singh (56 off 48)
His recall to the Indian side created a ripple of interest, except it was overshadowed by Dhoni’s decision to step down as captain. Notwithstanding a truckload of runs in domestic cricket this season, questions on Yuvraj’s ability to negotiate, let alone dominate high quality international bowlers remained unanswered. After a discernibly diffident start to his innings, Yuvraj broke the shackles with a sumptuous straight drive off Adil Rashid, that rocketed to the fence. That seemed to free Yuvraj up, and consequently other parts of the field, too. He galloped from three to fifty in just 29 balls, before miscuing a hook shot to fine-leg. England had regularly targeted Yuvraj’s body, testing him with the short ball on a pitch offering tennis ball like bounce, with mixed results. He was sent in to bat ahead of Dhoni, which seems to suggest that he will occupy the number four slot, if picked in the XI.
MS Dhoni plays hard to get (68 off 40)
In an amazing irony, chants of ‘Dhoni Dhoni’ only grew impatiently louder as Ambati Rayudu approached his hundred. Two balls later, Rayudu left the field retired-out on 100 and the crowd erupted into a raucous roar, as Dhoni finally walked out to bat in the 41st over. As is his wont, Dhoni stuck to his guns, refusing to pander to the gallery – a luxury he could have easily afforded with the position India A were in, coupled with the knowledge that it was just a practice match. Instead he manoeuvred the field intelligently for a major chunk of his innings, before a quintessential final over assault on Chris Woakes catapulted the total to 304. Dhoni finished on 68 not out, his 74th List A fifty.
Hardik Pandya’s miserly spell (1 for 48 in 9.5 overs)
India have yearned for a pace bowling all-rounder and he is deemed a panacea for this chronic inadequacy. Pandya was handed the new ball, as he might be in the ODIs, and he responded with a tidy first spell, keeping the run-rate in check. His only wicket, that of Sam Billings, however came when the match had nearly reached its denouement. But with no cricket under his belt since the fourth ODI against New Zealand in October, it was an important outing for the all-rounder.
Kuldeep Yadav spins a web (5 for 60 in 10 overs)
Not part of India’s ODI squad, Yadav was a standout in an otherwise abject bowling performance by India A. He bewitched England with his indecipherable googly and bagged five of the seven wickets to fall. England’s batsmen, most noticeably openers Alex Hales and Jason Roy failed to pick him from the hand, becoming his first two victims. Remarkably, these are now Yadav’s best returns in List A cricket, eclipsing a previous best of two for 26. While he’ll have no further part to play in the series, his spell may have a cascading effect that plays into the hands of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.