India A captain MS Dhoni plays one on the off-side against England XI during a warm-up match at Brabourne Stadium yesterday. Pic/Suresh Karkera
The India A versus England warm-up game at the Cricket Club of India's Brabourne Stadium yesterday turned out to be an absolute MS Dhoni affair. Well, almost! More than the final outcome of the game, it was about his leadership qualities, the finisher tag and the man and his popularity as an Indian cricketer.
There were some security concerns before the start of the match and so the authorities had decided to allow entry through just three gates. But in the end, all gates were thrown open and there were close to 25,000 fans to watch Dhoni lead an India outfit perhaps for the last time.
Sam Billings' 85-ball 93 proved to be better than Kuldeep Yadav's five for 60 in the final outcome of the game.
England’s Sam Billings during his innings of 93 yesterday. Pic/PTI
England were going well with Jason Roy and Alex Hales putting on 95 runs for the first wicket, but some smart bowling changes and field placing by Dhoni reduced the visitors to 112-3 before Bilings and Jos Buttler put on 79 runs for the fourth wicket to bring England back into the game. There were some twists and turns as India A stayed in the game till the penultimate over. But despite the crowd backing, Dhoni couldn't pull off a miraculous win.
There was a time when the crowd had a feeling that they may not see Dhoni bat at all when Shikhar Dhawan (63), Ambati Rayudu (100 retired hurt) and Yuvraj Singh (56) were going great guns. Rayudu scored a 97-ball unbeaten hundred with 11 fours and one six before he retired to get Dhoni into the crease.
Theories of a frosty relationship notwithstanding, it was Yuvraj who signalled to the dressing room and asked the ex-Indian skipper to come in once Rayudu reaches his hundred.
When Dhoni walked out there was not a single individual in the stadium who was seated. Even the strongest of characters could get emotional in this kind of an atmosphere.
He did nothing to the first four deliveries from David Willey. A pull to the square-leg fence off Chris Woakes and a four off David Willey to fine-leg few deliveries later showed that his nerves were settled. He kept the scoreboard ticking even as India A lost few wickets quickly and took the onus on himself to play the last over. Dhoni struck a six, four, four, two, six and one to make his last over batting as captain a memorable one. He eventually remained not out on 68 from 40 balls with eight fours and two sixes and helped India A cross the 300-run mark.
India A 304-4 (A Rayudu 100 (retd hurt), MS Dhoni 68*, Yuvraj 56; D Willey 2-55, J Ball 2-61) lost to England XI 307-7 (S Sarkar 93, J Roy 62; Kuldeep 5-60, Hardik 1-48) by three wickets