Dhawan ton inflicts second defeat for England
Delhi 295 for 4 (Dhawan 110, Milind 78*, Tredwell 2-49) beat England XI 294 for 5 (Bell 108, Morgan 52, Sood 3-45) by six wickets
England suffered their second successive defeat in a tour game as their bowlers failed to defend 295 against Delhi at the Kotla in seemingly bowling-friendly conditions. The ineffectiveness of the bowlers against a side possessing only a couple of known players is a worrying sign for Ashley Giles, the coach, ahead of the first ODI that begins in three days' time on a likely flat track in Rajkot.
Choosing to bat first, the England batting clicked after they had collapsed to 175 all out in the previous warm-up match. Ian Bell followed up his 91 against India A with a century that helped other players to attack around him and post a daunting 294. However, they were not prepared for a backlash from Shikhar Dhawan, the Delhi opener, whose aggressive hundred set the tone for the other batsmen as Delhi overhauled the target comfortably in the penultimate over.
While Bell's innings had been scratchy, Dhawan's was dominating right through. Whether it was Jade Dernbach, Stuart Meaker, Steven Finn or Chris Woakes, Dhawan played freely against them all. He drove majestically and was quick to pull anything short, the extra pace offered by the England bowlers suiting his strokeplay. When Meaker pitched short to him, he pulled one deep into the stands at midwicket for one of his three sixes.
Dhawan, who has been on the fringes of India selection for sometime, also staked his claim for the opener's role in the national XI. Virender Sehwag, India's regular opener, has already been dropped and Gautam Gambhir's position at the top isn't any firmer.
His 100 came off 98 balls with a slog-swept six off Tredwell. Dhawan also found solid support from 21-year-old batsman Milind Kumar, who remained unbeaten on 78.
The Delhi batsmen, though, were helped by some wayward bowling by the England bowlers, who were also a touch short throughout the innings. The seamers were taken for 188 runs in 30.3 overs on a track where the India and Pakistan fast bowlers found help a couple of days ago.
James Tredwell, deputising for the rested Graeme Swann, accepted that England needed to improve markedly in the opening ODI against India in Friday.
"It's obviously not been ideal," he said. "We like to go in and win these games but we've not hit our skills in the way we'd have liked. We need to make some improvements in the next couple of days. We didn't hit our lengths consistently enough to build pressure over periods of time.
"The result is irrelevent, but to be able to turn it around in the next couple of days going into the first ODI is crucial. We all have massive pride in our performances so when things don't go to plan it's disappointing. We can build on that disappointment and put it right going into the first game."
While the bowling attack suffered, England's experienced batsmen made most of their time in the middle. Apart from Bell, three other batsmen - Alastair Cook, Eoin Morgan and Craig Keiswetter - made useful contributions and got the much-needed batting practice ahead of the five-match series.
Bell, who opened the batting along with Cook, looked uncomfortable initially as the ball didn't come on to the bat and seamer Parwinder Awana troubled him with a tight line outside off. But he saw through the period by dropping anchor at his end and letting Cook play aggressively.
Cook, the England captain, was in good touch and two of his shots - a cover drive and a backfoot punch through cover-point - both off Awana, stood out. He scored 44 before seamer Sumit Narwal breached his defence, but an opening stand of 70 had already given the visitors a good start.
Although Joe Root and Samit Patel missed out, Morgan and Kieswetter attacked in the latter half of the innings, scoring 52 and 41 respectively, to put up a strong total. The bowling today, however, let the advantage slip through.