At the end of the 41st over of the India-A innings, the spectators who had thronged the Brabourne Stadium on Tuesday rose to their feet.
More than acknowledging Ambati Rayudu’s effortless hundred, the Mumbaikars were going berserk in anticipation of the man for whom Rayudu was retiring.
Read: >Ambati Rayudu silences his critics
With just nine overs remaining in the batting essay, Mahendra Singh Dhoni crossed the boundary ropes, shook hands with the centurion as they crossed and marched towards the crease, amidst vociferous chants of “Dhoni, Dhoni…”
It wasn’t the first time these roof-raising chants were heard on Tuesday. They had chanted at the fall of each of India-A’s first two wickets, expecting Dhoni to walk out to bat.
But Dhoni stuck to his role as a finisher, when the stage was set for a blitzkrieg. And he didn’t disappoint the fans – who had queued up at least for a couple of hours before being allowed to occupy the steps in the stands – with a trademark Dhoni innings. Of the 54 balls remaining in the innings when he strode out, Dhoni faced 40; and clobbered 68 runs (8x4, 2x6) against a hapless England attack.
For the first half of his cameo, he had his old partner-in-crime, Yuvraj Singh, at the other end. While Yuvraj couldn’t continue his earlier onslaught in his captain’s company, Dhoni didn’t take long before caressing successive boundaries off David Willey – a pull followed by a cover-drive, let off in the deep by Sam Billings.
Yuvraj soon miscued a pull off Jake Ball to offer a regulation catch to Adil Rashid, the leggie who was tormented by the stylish left-hander earlier, at fine-leg. Then it was over to Dhoni to finish off on a strong note.
He wasn’t deterred >when an enthusiast invaded the field and touched Dhoni’s feet after the end of the 46th over. While he warmed up with a boundary in each of the 47th, 48th and 49th overs, the last over of the innings made it a worthwhile wait for all the spectators, who had sat for hours.
6, 4, 4, 2, 6, 1: that’s the sequence in which Dhoni whacked 23 runs off Chris Woakes’ last six balls. He started the over, gliding a fuller delivery on the stumps over long-leg. The next ball was short and wide outside off-stump, and Dhoni cleverly upper-cut it over short third-man’s head. The third ball was a perfect short-ball, but Dhoni, having crossed his fifty without even realising it, top-edged it over the ’keeper. After failing to pitch the next two deliveries well, Woakes finished the over with a perfect yorker that Dhoni dug out for a single.
In the end, even the late charge wasn’t enough as the well-oiled England XI – despite chinaman Kuldeep Yadav’s impressive five-wicket haul – cruised to a three-wicket victory, with seven balls to spare. But that didn’t matter to a substantial crowd who had stayed back and continued to chant for their favourite player even when he led the team back as the losing captain.
Brief scores: India 'A' 304 for 4 in 50 overs (Shikhar Dhawan 63, Ambati Rayudu 100 (retired out), Yuvraj Singh 56, M. S. Dhoni 68 not out; David Willey 2 for 55, Jake Ball 2 for 61) lost to England XI 307 for 2 in 48.5 overs (Jason Roy 62, Alex Hales 40, Sam Billings 93, Jos Buttler 46, Liam Dawson 41; Kuldeep Singh 5 for 60, Hardik Pandya 1 for 48, Yuzvendra Chahal 1 for 56) by three wickets.
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