The shape of the English summer is set to be defined over the next ten weeks by Virat Kohli’s India. A day out from that tour beginning in earnest, India lifted their first silverware, thanks to the A team’s five-wicket victory over England Lions at The Oval. An unbeaten half-century from 20-year-old Rishabh Pant guided them to the tri-series title, though it was an accomplished collective performance from a team bristling with IPL talent.
Having been put into bat, the Lions were indebted to the series’ leading run-scorer, Sam Hain, maintaining his prolific white-ball form, as well as a colorful 83 from Liam Livingstone, who showed power and finesse to score swiftly on a slowish surface. The next-highest contribution was Steven Mullaney’s 17, as the India A bowlers bided their time and struck at opportune moments: twice during the initial Powerplay, as the Lions reached 41 for 2, and repeatedly at the back end of the innings.
Deepak Chahar, two days after being called into India’s full squad for the T20 series beginning on Tuesday, picked up three wickets, while slow left-arm Axar Patel – also now in the ODI squad – was their most economical bowler as well as also claiming a trio of catches, two of them exceptional efforts.
The Lions would rue a chance that wasn’t held, off Panton 35, when Reece Topley failed to get his hands under the ball running in from long-on. With India A having just lost Hanuma Vihari to a needless run-out, the Lions needed to seize the moment; instead, Pant and Krunal Pandya added an unbroken 71 to seal the chase.
There were perhaps a couple of hundred spectators in south London’s grand old ground, though the Indian tricolors were visible as Pant brought up his fifty moments after lashing Matt Parkinson – the bowler who might have had him caught – twice down the ground for six and four. A congregation had mustered near the changing rooms for the chance of a selfie with Rahul Dravid, the India A coach, and the visitors seemed to enjoy the conditions brought about by the UK’s recent heatwave, as the Lions sweated in the sunshine.
Although Prithvi Shaw fell to the first ball of the seventh over, India A already had 39 runs on the board. A double-strike from Liam Dawson – who drew level with Sajid Mahmood as the leading List A wicket-taker for the Lions, or England A/B, with 33 – checked the innings at 83 for 3 in the 16th over, but further inroads were delayed by a fourth-wicket stand of 67 in good time.
India A’s captain, Shreyas Iyer, cracked the first six of the innings – possibly the biggest of the day – off the bowling of Parkinson, though Iyer appeared unhappy to be given out caught behind down the leg side off Mullaney; wicketkeeper Ben Foakes also whipped off the bails, for good measure. Mullaney then dropped a return catch off Vihari on 25, though Topley’s miss of Pant was to prove more costly.
Trevor Bayliss, England’s head coach, and Ed Smith, the national selector, were both in attendance and although the Lions came up short, there were several positive contributions in a hard-fought contest – most notably from Hain.
Trying to force a way into England’s white-ball sides at the moment is a bit like getting hold of Hamilton tickets, or looking for a quick route to MCC membership. Be prepared for a wait, basically.
Nevertheless, Hain is making a compelling case. Following his second hundred of the series, he averages 68.81 in List A cricket; that rises to 115.00 from eight innings for the Lions and he has already joined James Taylor (who made four) and Dawid Malan as the only players to score three one-day hundreds for England’s second XI. Both of those went on to play for the senior teams although Malan, somewhat curiously, has been capped in T20 and Tests but not – thus far – ODIs.
Hain has been likened to Jonathan Trott, with his extended routine for taking guard and penchant for leg-side nudges, and he certainly seems a tad more circumspect than some of England’s new generation of dashers. That approach was well-attuned to the conditions at The Oval, however, where India A won a useful toss and made life difficult for the Lions throughout.
Only during a partnership of 152 in 26 overs between Hain and Livingstone did India A appear under pressure in the field. Livingstone hooked the first of his five sixes off Khaleel Ahmed in the 17th over, having taken some time to find his feet, and he became increasingly fluent as the innings progressed. Having reached his first fifty of the series, from 63 balls, Livingstone began to cruise up through the gears but fell one over after hitting Chahar for consecutive sixes when Axar took an excellent diving catch running in off the boundary.
Hain’s innings was a more nuggety affair, although he did deposit Krunal into the seats at deep midwicket. His hundred came from 113 deliveries, but he was unable to carry on right to the end, edging Chahar behind as the Lions lost 6 for 79 over the course of their last 16.2 overs.