Contrasting fifties by the top three and a bowling attack that fired as a unit saw India A clinch a big 53-run victory (Duckworth-Lewis method) over England on Sunday (January 6) at Palam Cricket Ground in New Delhi, with an Ian Bell special going in vain.
The match - shortened to 39 overs-a-side after a delayed start and a further 82-minute interruption - took place in mostly biting cold conditions, but with the national side fighting to avoid a 3-0 shellacking against Pakistan merely 20 kilometres away, the India A team warmed hearts with their comprehensive win, putting up 224 for four and then restricting England to 175 in 36 overs..
The batting firepower was provided by the trio of M Vijay, Abhinav Mukund and Kedar Jadhav, who scored almost 90% of India A's runs off the bat between them. Vijay starred, Mukund played the supporting role, and Jadhav ensured a good finish.
Vijay did his aspirations for a national recall no harm in stroking a fluent 76 off 75 balls, the best batting effort on show in either innings. Vijay came out when batting wasn't easy, weathered the initial tough phase and then hit several pleasing shots, including straight sixes and a reverse-swept four. That it came against a full-strength England attack made it better.
Mukund (57 off 81), the India A captain, played a good supporting role in a 118-run stand for the opening wicket in 23.1 overs that laid the platform for India A to put up a good score. Jadhav (52 not out off 50) then ensured that the good start wasn't wasted, providing thrust at the end to push the score along.
All of it would have come to nought, however, if the bowlers hadn't risen to the occasion. S Sreesanth bowled a first spell that read 5-1-7-1, with the wicket being the all-important one of Kevin Pietersen. Jalaj Saxena came on to bowl when England could have still wrested the initiative, but picked up two wickets while giving away just 13 runs in five overs. In between, Ishwar Pandey, Mohit Sharma and Ashok Menaria plugged away, giving little room to the England batsmen and choking them into submission.
India A's show was all the more praiseworthy as it came against an England XI that – bar Alastair Cook, sitting out with a cold – was very close to the one expected to take the field against India.
In the morning, play began half an hour after the scheduled 9am start because of fog. The extremely chilly weather notwithstanding, Eoin Morgan, the stand-in England captain, chose to field on winning the toss. Vijay and Mukund found the going tough initially, but they got a respite when at 15 for no loss after five overs, the umpires called a halt to the play due to deteriorating visibility.
After the delay, the weather was warmer and batting was easier, though there was still a haze over the ground. Mukund found his timing, and the runs flowed more regularly, with nearly every England bowler at the receiving end. The only exception was Jade Dernbach who had 2 for 23 in seven overs.
India A's total was gettable, but once England slid from 32 for no loss to 72 for six, the task looked beyond them. The slide was started by Sreesanth, with Pietersen, who had come out to open, holing out to mid-on. England couldn't put together a good partnership after that till the seventh (44 runs) and ninth (51 runs) wickets, by which time it was too late. Ian Bell (91 off 89) played a lone hand. As easy on the eye as Bell looked, what will worry England is how inept the rest of the batting was.
Even if the England performance were to be put down to rustiness after the holiday break, with just one warm-up match left, they'll need to get their act together fast.