For a contest of little consequence — apart from reaching clarity on the best eleven — the turnout for the India-England warm-up game was rousing. Half the stadium was filled much before the previous game folded in. Understandable, in that there will always be an interminable excitement whenever and wherever India play, so much so that it has evolved into a cricketing truism.
When the two captains — who won’t meet until the semifinals — walked out for the toss, the clatter of palms on palms reached a crescendo, not the deafening one when the stadium is crammed, but as loud as a 5,000-odd pair of palms could. MS Dhoni wore his usually unfathomable expression while stand-in skipper Eoin Morgan looked detached. Recent past has been cruel to both, and they can to an extend identify, if not empathise, with each other’s plight. And the sides they captain have almost identical issues to redress.
Choosing to field, England threw in offie Moeen Ali, he of Hashim Amlaesque beard to the spin-happy pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma. It was more of an experiment than a ruse, for it lasted only an over, before he was replaced by the experienced Tim Bresnan.
While England is dilemma-ridden about their best new-ball pair — whether to start with the conventional pace-pace combo or with a spin-pace duo, as subcontinental sides tend do — India haven’t yet settled on their opening pair. Their confusion — Rohit Sharma or Ajinkya Rahane — didn’t abide as Sharma contrived to self-destruct again, attempting an ambitious hook.
Soon after, his better half, too, departed, but more due to James Tredwell’s anticipation at cover than his misjudgment. England injected further misery when Yuvraj Singh outside-edged Chris Jordan to Jos Buttler. Another wicket gifted to a straightforward delivery, at a time when damage-control was the hour’s need. But Yuvraj and instinct, sometimes, are thickly bonded.
But Kohli (74 not out) and Suresh Raina (54) demonstrated the attributes the situation demanded with an 81-run partnership in 8.5 overs. Raina has been a recalibrated force in the warm-up fixtures, though the conditions and the bowlers weren’t exactly hostile to his method.
Once the pair repaired the innings, they unhesitatingly teed off. The first English victim was Lancashire spinner Stephen Parry, who was thrashed around for 17 runs. Next was Ravi Bopara, whom Raina pillared for 18 runs — including three boundaries and a six that fetched his half-century — in four balls. Bopara did dismiss Raina with his fifth ball, but India already had gained the sufficient momentum for a challenging total. And they did, with Kohli and Dhoni blasting 58 runs in 5.1 overs, propelling India to 178 for 4.
In the English camp, though, the scorecard wouldn’t make a satisfied read. Apart from Tredwell, who bowled four tight overs, they lacked expertise and experience.
Brief scores: India 178/4 in 20 overs (Kohli 74 no, Raina 54) vs England.