Sam Billings spoiled MS Dhoni’s party in the latter’s last match as skipper in a warm-up clash between India and England at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai.
Asked to chase 305, England had a good start with openers Alex Hales (40) and Jason Roy (62) putting up 95-run partnership for the first wicket. Sam Billings then came to the party with a knock of 93. Billings combined with Liam Dawson (41) to put on a match-winning partnership of 99 runs for the sixth wicket. Billings fell when victory was near, but Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid saw England home. For India, Kuldeep Yadav took five wickets for 60 to impress everyone with his leg-spin bowling.
Earlier, India put up 304/5 after being asked to bat first. It was Dhoni who was the center of attention throughout the match. It was just a warm-up match between India A and England, but the intensity, passion and love for cricket was in full display.
Even though Ambati Rayudu and Yuvraj Singh were milking the England bowling attack for runs, the crowds kept chanting ‘Dhoni! Dhoni’ with great vigour. It was after all, Dhoni’s last match as skipper for India. The Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai was packed to the hilt with fans eagerly wanting to catch Dhoni for the last time as skipper.
But much before Dhoni came to the crease after Rayudu retired following his hundred, we saw the Yuvraj Singh of old when the southpaw used to demoralise the bowling attack with his big hits.
Yuvraj started slowly, by comfortably taking the ones and twos. He took after the bowling once he found his footing. He broke free in the 19th ball, lofting a Adil Rashid’s googly for a six over long-off. In the same over, he punches a full-length delivery from Rashid over the bowler’s head for a vintage six. It had class written all over it.
But the best of Yuvi was still to come. Yuvraj’s timing was perfect and he was a sheer delight to watch. The best shot from Yuvi’s bat was the cover drive of Chris Woakes’ bowling. Leaning over the shot, Yuvraj finds a sweet spot in his bat and he cover drives to beat the fielder in the deep. It was a top shot from Yuvi. He reached his 50 off 40 balls with 5 fours and 2 sixes with his wife Hazel Keech watching in the stands.
Rayudu reached his hundred soon thereafter, but it was not the fans were waiting for. Taking the fans cue, Rayudu chose to retire after scoring his ton. Dhoni walked in to deafening chants of ‘Dhoni, Dhoni’ similar to ‘Sachin, Sachin’ during the latter’s last Test at Wankhede.
Dhoni took his time to settle down. But he soon found his groove, pulling a short ball to the fence. He rotated the strike brilliantly to keep the opposition on their toes.
An intruder even ran out into the middle to touch Dhoni’s feet. Security took him away quickly. Saqlain Mushtaq, England spin coach, was interviewed at the ground and said, “Dhoni is his hero.”
The final few overs saw Dhoni going into fifth gear. Dhoni kept his best for the last over bowled by Woakes. He cracked a six over square leg off the first ball to reach his fifty. He then square cut a short ball for four. He then smashed another four. He mistimed the next ball, but it landed in no-man’s land and Dhoni took two. Dhoni then brought out his trade mark helicopter shot to score a six over mid-wicket. He took a single of the last ball. Dhoni scored 23 runs off the last over. Dhoni ended on 68 not out off 40 balls with 8 fours and 2 sixes as India A put up 304/4.
Brief scores: India A 304/5 (Ambati Rayudu 101*, MS Dhoni 68*) lose to England 307/7 (Sam Billings 93) by 3 wickets.