Mumbai, Jan 9:
His stellar reign as India’s national skipper is over but Mahendra Singh Dhoni will have captain written against his name one last time when the talismanic wicketkeeper-batsman leads out India ‘A’ against England in the first practice match here tomorrow.
Dhoni took the cricketing world by surprise when he announced his decision to step down from leadership last week, giving Virat Kohli the reins of captaincy in all three formats of the game.
However, he would be leading India A in the first of two warm-up games scheduled for the tourists at the Brabourne Stadium. But the match itself is expected to be watched by just a handful of spectators as heavy police presence is expected to keep away the fans.
The game is being held under the cloud of the Supreme Court’s sacking of the top BCCI President Anurag Thakur and Secretary Ajay Shirke, making most of the senior functionaries of the body ineligible to cling to their posts.
While there have been reports of the disgruntled and ousted Board officials trying to persuade some BCCI-affiliated units from hosting games of the England tour, CCI has decided to go ahead and conduct both the warm-up games in right earnest.
As such there is no immediate threat to tomorrow’s first day/night warm-up game as well as the second game featuring another India A squad to be led by Ajinkya Rahane on January 12 which is to be held as a day game.
The focus on the first game will be not only on Dhoni but also on recalled limited over specialists — Yuvraj Singh and Ashish Nehra — who were both members of the triumphant squad led by the Ranchi superstar that regained the 50-over World Cup in 2011.
This is the first and last competitive game all these three ageing stalwarts will have before the six-match, 3 ODIs and 3 T20s, limited-overs series between India and England commencing on January 15 at Pune.
While Dhoni and Yuvraj have been included for both the ODI and T20 International series, Nehra has found himself back in only the T20 squad.
All three players have had a lengthy break from cricket going into the warm-up match against the Eoin Morgan-led England squad.
The injury-prone 37-year-old Nehra has not played during the entire domestic season so far for Delhi, and thus will be keen to get quickly into the groove and also assess his match fitness.
The 35-year-old Yuvraj last played for India in the World T20 in March 2016 and has not played ODIs since December 2013, losing his place in the 50-over game after averaging just 18.53 in his last 19 matches.
The selectors have recalled the left-handed Punjab batsman based on his form in the early part of Ranji Trophy in which he scored 672 runs in five matches, including a double hundred against Baroda.
All three players are proven performers at the international level, but would still need some match practice before the series against England kicks off. This game provides it and the trio would be keen to make the most of it.
Also coming back after an injury-forced lay-off is attacking opener Shikhar Dhawan, expected to launch the India A innings alongside Mandeep Singh, who too would be keen to show his worth against the quality opposition that England will provide.
All-rounder Hardik Pandya, who also got injured during the preceding Test series against England and has been declared fit, will be another player to get into match fitness after being chosen for the ODI and T20 series.
Ambati Rayudu and Mohit Sharma are two other players who will be keen to perform impressively to get back into the limited-overs squad for the Champions Trophy in England.
Indian selectors would also get a chance to see wrist spinners, Yuzvendra Chahal, who has got the nod for the T20 series, and Kuldeep Singh, in action in tandem.
England too will be keen to hit their stride after landing here a few days ago. They had a serious net session yesterday and are set to have another one today under lights before plunging into the competitive part of the tour.
Morgan and three other players — Alex Hales, Jason Roy and David Willey — are coming from Australia following stints with respective Big Bash T20 franchises while nine others were part of the Test squad that got whipped 4-0 by India.
England, unlike India, who have four Test matches still to play before the Champions Trophy, are already in the white-ball mode and the warm-up game against Dhoni, Yuvraj and company offers them a good chance to start their preparations in earnest for the series against India and later.
England’s star batsman Joe Root will join the team on January 12 as he has decided to stay back at home for some more time due to personal reasons.
Rival teams (from):
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, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willey and Chris Woakes.
Match begins at 1:30 pm. (PTI)