Interesting contest washed out
A steady drizzle washed out what promised to be a thrilling run-chase, with the Indians starting positively in pursuit of 297. An overcast day turned damp at around 3:00pm, with the Indians on 32 for no loss after 6.5 overs, and play was called off at 4:15, when the drizzle refused to relent.
On a pitch good for batting, the England Lions piled up a challenging 296 for 8 in their 50 overs. Two partnerships, one that kickstarted the innings and another that helped them recover from a middle-over slump, guided them to the total. Sourav Ganguly, back at the ground where he spent a season last year, caressed three delectable fours to get the Indians away but the heavens opened up and left the packed house disappointed.
Luke Wright, considered the best young batsman in England, wreaked havoc early but Vikram Solanki, Ravi Bopara and Paul Nixon carved nuggety knocks that propped up the Lions. Ramesh Powar helped India recover from Wright's initial assault but some handy lower-order contributions, including a late 61-run stand between Chris Schofield and Tim Bresnan, pushed the Lions to an imposing total.
The morning, though, belonged to Wright, a six-footer from Sussex who's had people sit up and take notice. Born in Grantham, the hometown of Margaret Thatcher, Wright made an immediate impact. Walking in at the fall of an early wicket, he spanked Zaheer Khan for a four through square before top-edging another over the wicketkeeper. That, though, was a minor admonition compared to the royal lambasting that Munaf Patel received - peppered for 16 in his first over, including three successive fours.
Solanki, his opening partner, was born a continent away (in Udaipur, Rajasthan) and treated India's bowlers with a bit more respect early on. He was rattled by a Zaheer bouncer in the fifth over, struck flush on the helmet, but recovered to ease into his stride. He complemented Wright's fireworks with earnest run-gathering, yet brought up his fifty at almost a run a ball. His half-century, off 54 balls, contained just four fours but plenty of quick singles.
Old-timers at this ground wouldn't have been surprised with Powar's girth, not after watching Colin 'Ollie' Milburn in the '60s and '70s. Roly-poly and flighty, Powar brought India back into the match with a triple blow. He strangled Wright down the leg side, lured Bell into a mistimed loft to long-on and trapped Owais Shah with a quicker one. Hardly had the Lions come to terms with a man who wears sunglasses in overcast conditions than they'd lost three wickets. Piyush Chawla, bounding in from the other end, soon foxed Solanki with a googly. India assumed control of a match that, just a few minutes ago, was slipping from their grasp.
A sedate stand put the Lions back on the rails. Nixon and Bopara added 73 in 14.4 overs, steadying a boat rocked by spin. Bopara recently said he wanted to emulate Sachin Tendulkar and some of his delicate touches would have won his hero's approval. Tendulkar wasn't playing today but created excitement in the stands nevertheless - an autographed bat of his was at stake in the day's lottery. Nixon, meanwhile, was following in the footsteps of Andy Flower, reverse-sweeping at every given opportunity. It was that very shot, though, which led to his downfall: overbalancing to a faster one by Yuvraj Singh down the leg side and watching Mahendra Singh Dhoni whip the bails off in a flash.
Dhoni, leading the Indians after Rahul Dravid decided to rest, chose to field this morning. Two factors could have prompted the decision: the overcast conditions at the time and the forecast for afternoon showers, in which case the team batting second knows the exact requirements. India's fielders were sprightly for most part, barring two tough chances going down - Robin Uthappa running from mid-on and grassing a lob from Nixon, Munaf failing to hold on to a one-handed caught and bowled off Bopara. Munaf was the most disappointing of the seamers, struggling with his length and timid with pace. With the first one-dayer just three days away, India's seam attack is still well short of hitting their straps, though their batsmen appear, on today's admittedly limited evidence, to be in decent nick.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo