Dhoni's captaincy swansong; Yuvraj, Nehra too in focus

M.S. Dhoni would be leading India A in the first of two warm-up games scheduled for the tourists at the Brabourne Stadium. He will have captain written against his name one last time when he leads out against England in the first practice match tomorrow in Mumbai.

Dhoni took the cricketing world by surprise when he announced his decision to step down from leadership last week.   -  K. Bhagya Prakash

Whenever a visiting team trains ahead of a warm-up game simultaneously with a local team, the focus invariably is on the international side. Not on Monday, though. As the England and India A squads trained under floodlights on either sides of the Brabourne pitch, hardly anyone present on the sidelines – including the Cricket Club of India members and their families, former India team director Ravi Shastri and his daughter and a flurry of mediamen – was bothered about the proceedings in the nets of England.

Understandably so, since a certain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was getting himself into the groove for Wednesday’s warm-up match, and the limited overs series that follows against Eoin Morgan's men. Dhoni's mere presence on a cricket field attracts all the attention. The fact that he was taking a cricket field in public glare for the first time after passing the captaincy baton to Virat Kohli meant all the limelight would be solely focussed on him.

The man, however, appeared to be at his usual calm. Looking fitter than ever, Dhoni, dressed in India A’s all-grey practice attires, first played football, even scoring a goal for his team. Once the opening batsmen took to the three nets, Dhoni went on the far side of the ground and observed all the bowlers, including the likes of Ashish Nehra – recalled out of obscurity for Twenty20s, Mohit Sharma – who has been sidelined, Yuzvendra Chahal – the leggie who has had an impressive run in coloured clothing and chinaman Kuldeep Yadav – arguably the most improved spinner in domestic cricket over the last year.

Dhoni then padded up and batted against all types of bowlers for almost 45 minutes. Unlike some of the other batsmen, including Yuvraj Singh and Shikhar Dhawan, Dhoni didn't look rusty, timing most of the balls he faced. Before retiring to the confines of the dressing room, Dhoni did oblige a group of kids, waiting anxiously outside the boundary line to get autographs and selfies of one of the most popular faces in Indian cricket.

Yuvraj, on the other hand, had a fidgety outing in the nets, especially with the pacers managing to move the ball in the evening breeze. It will be interesting to see if Yuvraj can make a strong case for a place in India’s eleven for the series-opener in Pune on Sunday. The left-hander was later seen discussing facing short balls with Dhawan and Mandeep Singh before wearing the gloves for a second stint in the nets.

The Englishmen may have been looking to hit the straps on Tuesday but there's plenty at stake for their India A counterparts in the day-night game.

Practice match squads:

India A: Shikhar Dhawan, Mandeep Singh, Ambati Rayudu, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (capt. and wk), Hardik Pandya, Sanju Samson, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ashish Nehra, Mohit Sharma, Siddharth Kaul.

England: Eoin Morgan (captain), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Liam Dawson, Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willey and Chris Woakes.

Match begins at 1:30 pm.