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The Report by Nagraj Gollapudi in Leicester
June 26, 2014
Indians 333 for 4 (Dhawan 60*, Pujara 57, Gambhir 54) v Leicestershire
"Atif bhai. Thoda aaram se. Mehman hain aapka. Sambhal ke dal na" (Atif, go steady. He is your guest. Please take care), a fan shouted from the Benett End after the left-arm seamer from Leicestershire hit the Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan on his right elbow, forcing the batsman to retire hurt.
Yet, it was the Indians who caused more pain for a half-strength Leicestershire side, with three of their batsmen recording elegant and effortless half-centuries. Only two batsmen were officially out as three players opted to retire before the visitors, as per the rules, declared at the end of the day.
After M Vijay bottom edged a wide delivery into gully at the stroke of the first hour, Dhawan and Gautam Gambhir created a strong platform by forging a 119-run stand for the second wicket. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli built on it by adding 64 for the third wicket, before an undefeated 74-run stand between Ajikya Rahane and Rohit Sharma lifted the Indians to 333 for 4, and deflated the spirits of the Leicestershire bowlers.
With the forecast indicating afternoon showers over the next two days, MS Dhoni opted to bat. The Indians decided to field all 18 players, though the plan was to play 15-a-side on the eve of the match. The visitors' batting XI included everyone apart from R Ashwin.
Dhawan was one of the five Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 2013 for his match-winning knocks during India's triumph in the Champions Trophy. However, he began nervously by chasing after a full and wide delivery from Anthony Ireland and edging it to third slip, only to be handed a reprieve by Dan Redfern. It was a sharp chance. Ireland kicked the air in disgust. Dhawan brought up the Indians' fifty by slashing the medium-pacer Shiv Thakor past point for four and followed it up by going down on his knees to cover drive for another four.
Dhawan remained quiet for a brief period, going 14 deliveries without scoring, but then hit four consecutive fours. A light tap to the leg side brought up a 79-ball fifty, as well as the 50-run partnership for the second wicket with Gambhir.
By lunch, India were 106 for 1 and Leicestershire, who were missing most of their first XI following a ten-wicket loss to Surrey, were hurting. However, the hosts returned after the break with Ireland and Shaikh bowling with more intensity.
In the sixth over after lunch Shaikh, who has played only one first-class match, aimed a short and quick delivery into Dhawan's ribs. Dhawan backed out, but to his surprise the ball followed him swiftly and hit him on the right elbow. Dhawan threw the bat instantly, wincing in pain, and a few minutes later he walked back to the dressing room retired hurt. The Indian team management clarified later that the batsman was fine and there was no cause for concern.
Gambhir, in his first outing for India since losing his opening position to Dhawan more than a year ago, did not let the incident disrupt his tempo. He had hit his first boundary off his 13th delivery - an edgy square drive against Thakor - and seemed poised for a big score. He was compact, calm and comfortable against all bowlers.
Gambhir kept clipping and pushing the ball into gaps for runs, before collecting his half-century with a back-foot drive to the cover boundary against offspinner Jigar Naik. He immediately decided to retire, the first of three players to do so.
Leicestershire appeared listless for the majority of the day, with the bowlers failing to maintain a consistent line to trouble the batsmen. Having learned from their recent experiences in South Africa and New Zealand, the Indians were happy to go through the motions without doing anything silly.
Their only mistake came immediately after tea, when Kohli misread the line and played away to a full inswinging delivery from Thakor to lose his off stump. Pujara also retired soon after hitting fifty, Ajinkya Rahane started with four consecutive fours, and Rohit Sharma nearly raced to the fastest half-century of the day before the innings had to be declared.
More accustomed to the rumbling sounds inside Indian grounds, the visitors had to be content playing in front of a subdued Thursday crowd. Grace Road was reportedly sold out on the eve of the match, but virtually half the ground was empty today.
The Indians will not attach too much significance to the runs scored, considering Leicestershire and Derbysire, their opponents in the second tour match next week, occupy the bottom two rungs in Division 2 of the English County Championship. The last Championship match Leicestershire won was the final game of the 2012 season.
However, even after accounting for the quality of their opponents, the Indians wanted to clock adequate minutes in the middle and are bound to be satisfied with their returns on the first day.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Nagraj Gollapudi
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