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Report: Leicestershire vs Indians – Day 1

Indian batsmen make most of the first batting practice opportunity

Indians: 333 for 4 (two retired) declared after 90 overs

Ajinkya Rahane 47 not out (73 balls, seven 4s)

Rohit Sharma 43 not out (68 balls five 4s, one 6s)

Team India arrived at Grace Road, the ground they are pretty familiar by now, having practiced there for four days. MS Dhoni walked in for toss, relaxed and calm and upon calling it right and electing to bat, joked India will be “fielding their usual 14”.

Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan got India off to a cautious start after Shikhar was dropped in the slips in the first over, off Anthony Ireland. As the two settled down, they left the ball well outside the off stump, looked more assured at the crease and negotiated the slight swing without fuss.

With majority of the group of spectators donning the Indian blue and cheering for Team India with the traditional dhol beats, the visitors probably felt more at home than the local boys of Leicestershire. In fact, the morning began with a loud cheer welcoming the Indian players on the field.

Basking in sunshine, Grace Road wore the look of a quaint little cricket venue whose quiet was only broken by the thwack of bat on ball and the applauding fans.

The openers put 46 in 15 overs, immediately after which Vijay nicked one to gully to give Leicestershire and Ireland their first wicket. Gautam Gambhir walked in at No. 3 for India amid enthusiastic applause from the crowd.

While Gambhir played himself in with a few prods and pushes, Shikhar played some exquisite drives and cuts. The senior of the left-handers joined the show soon with a cracking square drive to fetch his first boundary. Soon came a gorgeous punch through the covers. Shikhar got into his elements with a flurry of cover drives and cuts, and brought his half-century in 79 balls.

The Indian batsmen got a good working over from Atif Sheikh, a left-arm fast bowler who is yet to play for Leicestershire first XI. Soon after lunch, a sharp short ball from Sheikh struck Dhawan on his right arm. In what was more a precautionary step, the physio took Shikhar off the field, retired hurt.

Gambhir and Pujara were tested too by Sheikh’s sharp bounce and pace but did well to negotiate him and form a 49-run stand off 70 balls.

Gambhir, soon after bringing up his fifty, retired for 54 off 101 balls. His was a typically gritty knock one would associate with the left-hander.

Virat Kohli joined Pujara after Gambhir’s departure and the duo looked very comfortable in the middle. Virat was bowled through the gate by Shiv Thakor for 29 soon after Tea.

In the last session the sun made way for a light covering of clouds and the temperature dropped considerably. The ball started to move a little more as Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane handled it with patience. Unbeaten at Tea on 37, Pujara completed his half-century in the 70th over of the day, and just like Gambhir, retired out soon after, for 57 (98 balls).

Rohit Sharma came in with an attacking mindset to evoke a loud cheer from the spectators when he lofted off-spinner James Sykes for the first six of the innings. A few more fours – a smash through midwicket and a guide past point and a languid drive through the covers – later the crowd was chanting Rohit’s name.

The Indians declared their innings after the stipulated 90 overs on the day with the score at 333 for 4 (Gambhir and Pujara retired).

Shirin Sadikot

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Unpredictability can be India’s strength: Fletcher

Indian coach counts on his youngsters; captain Dhoni pleased with preperations

England’s heartbreaking loss to Sri Lanka notwithstanding, MS Dhoni believes Alastair Cook’s team remains a stern opponent in the English conditions. Extending his support to his English counterpart, the Indian skipper refused to take the battered hosts lightly on the basis of the last-over series defeat against the Lankans.

“It’s not about what has happened to them in their last series. When we assess the England team as opposition, we see a fantastic side, which means it will be a tough competition,” Dhoni said ahead of India’s first warm-up match in Leicester. “They know their home conditions well and it’s a pretty long series for us as well. Playing five Test matches in England is entirely new for us.”

Cook has been copping criticism from all quarters owing to his team’s defeats and his own poor run with the bat. Dhoni, who is no stranger to being under the scanner, emphasized with the England skipper.

“It’s important for the media to remember what they said about him the last time we were here and how he performed,” Dhoni said. “Everyone has a bad phase and it’s at that time that they need the backing. Everyone is on your side when you’re winning and scoring those big hundreds. But the real test of character of the fans, media and team mates is if they support you when you’re not doing well.”

Going back to his own team, Dhoni was pleased with the way the first four days of the tour have gone, weather and facility wise. On a long and challenging tour, the skipper takes solace in the fact that his team will not be out of support in this country.

“All over England we have a big fan following. In the Champions Trophy final, we had more support than the England team,” the Indian skipper quipped. “The facilities have been really great, which matters a lot. The weather had been very kind in the three-four days we’ve been here, which means we have been able to achieve what we wanted to in the first four days. With the practice game starting tomorrow, we want to make the most of our preparation time.” The skipper said.

Coach, Duncan Fletcher, agreed: “We want all our players to have some sort of match practice going into the first Test,” he said. “We are pretty sure what the side is going to be but if we have any injury, like we did the last time when we were here, we want all the players to be ready if they’re called upon.”

Taking about his own experience of coaching Team India to two Test series defeats against England, Fletcher said his main job was to develop the cricketers and make them the match-winners. “Everyone, coaches and players, go through the ups and downs. As a coach your main aim is to help the players, take them forward and develop them. If a result comes out of it, it’s great.”

Speaking of the importance of the relationship between the coach and the captain, Fletcher said, “Cricket is a difficult game to lead because here the coach doesn’t have as much say as he does in other sports. It is the captain’s side but he needs the support of the coach. If you don’t have that support, the coach and the captain will start doubting each other and when that happens, you’re going to run into a huge problem. If you believe in the strategies you have put together and trust each other, it becomes easier.”

The former England coach denied having a special motivation of winning on the English shores, defeating his previous team. “Every Test series you play is very important because you’ll be judged on the basis of the last Test series that you’ve played.”

He was also hopeful of his young team converting their weakness into their strength. “Without making excuses, this is a very, very inexperienced side. But it’s nice sometimes because it brings in that factor of unpredictability. They could play some exciting cricket and there are many players in this group who will go on to become very good cricketer for India,” Fletcher said. 

Shirin Sadikot

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