Kaif thwarts England in tense clash
Mohammad Kaif's timely century and Suresh Raina's allround performance spurred Rajashtan Cricket Association XI to a thrilling five-run victory in the final over against England XI at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur. Ian Bell and Matt Prior kept England in the hunt for most of the match but a spate of run-outs and tight bowling by RCA XI's spinners derailed England's chase.
Chasing 261, Prior gave the initial push with a 69-run stand for the third wicket with Kevin Pietersen. The early loss of Vikram Solanki and Owais Shah didn't faze him as he collected runs by cutting and lofting over the infield. The opening bowlers were guilty of offering far too much room to Prior and bowling much too straight to Pietersen, who milked runs to the midwicket fence. But they found runs hard to come by against Piyush Chawla and Ramesh Powar and Prior holed out soon after Pietersen was run out.
Bell handled the responsibility of leading the chase marvellously and, with Paul Collingwood, used his feet to play the spinners very effectively. Skipping down the track both batsmen lofted over the infield to find the fence and suddenly all the pressure created was let off. Two calamitous run-outs, first Collingwood and then Ian Blackwell, reduced England XI to 216 for 6 but Bell carried on. Making use of a missed stumping early in his innings, Bell showed that, when necessary, he could adapt to the one-day format as well and his nudges and pushes were interspersed with attacking shots down the ground.
The asking-rate mounted as wickets fell at the other end and Bell perished while trying to clear deep midwicket . The match seemed lost then but Kabir Ali was reading another script. Needing 24 off 11 balls, he hoisted Chawala over long-on for six. With the equation reading 12 runs off three balls with one wicket remaining, Ali unleashed another massive hit over deep midwicket. However, it was to end there. He drove the next ball to cover and James Anderson set off at top speed from the non-striker's end. Kaif pounced on the opportunity and completed the fourth run-out of the innings to seal England's loss.
It was fitting that Kaif ended the match for it was he who set it up so perfectly for RCA XI's in the first innings. He paced his century perfectly - taking time to settle as Suresh Rania sparkled during his 49, picking off the ones and twos in the middle overs, and finishing unbeaten on 119 with a flurry of boundaries at the death. His innings began after both openers had fallen cheaply. Gautam Gambhir, almost certain to partner Virender Sehwag in the ODIs, floundered and fell tamely to a nick down leg side but another Indian hopeful shone. Rania, who was superb later with the ball and in the field, kept the momentum going with his characteristic punchy drives and whippy flicks while Kaif took time to get settled.
England's attack, missing Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard, showed their inexperience by bowling far too full and wide. Raina got cracking straightaway, steering Sajid Mahmood through cover point for four off the second ball he faced. He was especially severe on Anderson, bashing him for three fours in his fifth over as the innings began to pick up pace after a sluggish start. As Rania unleashed an array of crisp strokes, Kaif dug in. He was typically busy in the early part of his innings and his first signs of aggression were consecutive fours of Liam Plunkett.
England lost Mahmood to a stomach bug after he bowled just three overs but Collingwood and Blackwell filled the breach and stemmed the run-rate. Collingwood's offcutters snared Rania (49 off 46 balls) and Venugopal, who frittered a crucial opportunity to impress the selectors, and Blackwell induced a top-edge from Ajay Jadeja. Blackwell returned figures of 1 for 33 and staked his claim for a one-day spot.
At 166 for 5, RCA XI were in a dicey situation but Kaif took centrestage. He shifted gears and unleashed drives and pulls and when he couldn't find the boundary he played infuriating chip shots over the infield that fell in no man's land. His cheekiness rubbed off on Parthiv Patel who contributed 25. Kaif quickly made up the deficit between his runs and balls faced by playing in an aggressive vein, something which has been missing in his international knocks of late. He ended the innings with a flourish, clouting a four and a six off the final two balls to finish with 119 off 136 balls.
Jaidev Shah c Batty b Mahmood 10 (11 for 1)
Cramped for room, pulled to midwicket
Gautam Gambhir c Prior b Anderson 5 (28 for 2)
Faint edge down leg side
Suresh Raina c Shah b Collingwood 49 (100 for 3)
Lofted off the pads to deep square leg
Venugopal Rao b Collingwood 14 (120 for 4)
Bowled through the bat-pad gap
Ajay Jadeja c Pietersen b Blackwell 18 (166 for 5)
Top-edged an attempted heave over extra cover to short third man
Parthiv Patel c Bell b Ali 25 (227 for 6)
Chipped straight to midwicket
Vikram Solanki c Raina b VRV Singh 0 (10 for 1)
Lobbed a slower delivery to cover
Owais Shah c Patel b RP Singh 2 (19 for 2)
Hurried by a short ball, top-edged to the wicketkeeper
Kevin Pietersen run out Raina 28 (88 for 3)
Direct hit from cover
Matthew Prior c RP Singh b Powar 55 (97 for 4)
Holed out to deep midwicket
Paul Collingwood run out Patel 34 (163 for 5)
Bat stuck on the crease when bails were whipped off
Ian Blackwell run out Jadeja 23 (215 for 6)
Hit straight to midwicket, sent back by Bell
Ian Bell c Kaif b Raina 71 (229 for 7)
Slog-swept to deep midwicket
Liam Plunkett c RP Singh b Venugopal Rao 1 (230 for 8) Holed out to deep midwicket
Gareth Batty c RP Singh b Chawla 2 (244 for 9)
Lofted to long-off
James Anderson run out Kaif 4 (255 all out)
Set off from the non-striker's end, woefully short
George Binoy is editorial assistant of Cricinfo