With Andrew Flintoff on paternity leave, four regulars rehabilitating at home and the hardest-working members of the Test squad relaxing in the stands, England yesterday gave those players loitering around the fringe of the one-day side the chance to push for a place in Tuesday's opening match against India in Delhi.
The prospect of playing seven unforgettable games in front of huge, noisy crowds ought to have been enough to motivate an England team packed with young thrusters, but Ian Bell, Matthew Prior and Ian Blackwell were the only players to further their cause during the five-run defeat by a President's XI.
Bell scored a responsible 71 and Prior posted a breezy 55 as England tried to chase down a target of 260. On a pitch that became harder and harder to score freely on it was always going to be difficult for England to pass a competitive total, but the task was made nigh-on impossible by a combination of dreadful running between the wicket and reckless strokeplay.
Panic batting resulted in England losing four key wickets to run-outs and four more slogging the ball into the deep. How they needed the responsible and reassuring figure of Flintoff to guide them home. Kabir Ali almost saved England's blushes in the "Pink City" with a quickfire 25 before James Anderson was, predictably, run out with one ball remaining.
The acting captain, Vikram Solanki - who had chosen to bowl first after winning the toss - and Owais Shah fell to indifferent shots in the first four overs of England's reply before Kevin Pietersen and Prior settled matters down with some powerful strokeplay. But their partnership ended when a mix-up resulted in Pietersen being run out from a direct hit. In the next over Prior foolishly hoicked one into the deep, and from this point on England struggled to keep up with the required run-rate.
Paul Collingwood and Blackwell formed useful partnerships with Bell until they, too, needlessly ran themselves out. With England now requiring seven runs an over, calculated risks needed to be taken but three successive batsmen, including Bell, hoisted simple catches to fielders in the deep.
Sajid Mahmood and Anderson had, rather fortuitously, given England an excellent start by dismissing the President XI's openers within seven overs, but this only brought Suresh Raina and Mohammad Kaif, two members of India's one-day squad to the crease. Both batsmen played England's seamers with worrying ease, and the tourists could do little to prevent Kaif posting an excellent hundred. Raina, too, is an exciting player and England can expect to see quite a bit of these two over the next three weeks.
Anderson, Kabir Ali and Liam Plunkett are expected to form the backbone of England's attack in Delhi, yet they conceded almost six runs an over here. The generosity of the faster bowlers forced Solanki to employ his slower bowlers; and it worked.
Collingwood replaced Mahmood, who retired with gastric problems after three overs, and dismissed Raina for 49 in his first over. He then bowled Venugopal Rao in his fourth. Blackwell's left-arm spin proved equally effective. In 10 overs Blackwell conceded only 33 runs and claimed the wicket of Ajay Jadeja, the former Indian all-rounder.
Despite a falling run-rate and the regular loss of wickets Kaif knew the importance of having wickets in hand during the final 10 overs, and the President's XI added 87 runs in this period.
Kaif brought his hundred up off the 129th ball he faced before hacking the final over of the innings, bowled by Kabir, for 16 runs. Ultimately, it won the game.Reuse content