MS Dhoni. (Photo: PTI)
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Dhoni, Yuvraj Shine But India A Lose to England by Three Wickets

Mahendra Singh Dhoni did all he could with the willow but England still gatecrashed his party by three wickets, leaving a packed house made up of loyal fans more heartbroken than the home team dressing room in the first practice match at Mumbai on Tuesday.

England gave themselves a much-needed boost by beating the Dhoni-led India A side by three wickets ahead of the limited overs series.

Ambati Rayudu top-scored with a fine century, while Kuldeep Yadav returned a five-wicket haul but Dhoni was the cynosure of all eyes as he bludgeoned his way to an unbeaten 68 off 40 balls, albeit in a losing cause.

Chinaman bowler Yadav sent England, who chased the home side's challenging score of 304 for five, scurrying for cover but Sam Billings made 93 to push the tourists close to the victory target in the first of two practice games.

Although Billings departed when 15 runs were needed, England completed the win in the 49th over when Chris Woakes (11 not out) struck Mohit Sharma for successive fours to take England to 307 for 7.

Apart from Billings, who hit eight fours in his 85-ball innings before being dismissed by Hardik Pandya in the 47th over, openers Jason Roy (62), Alex Hales (40), Jos Buttler (46) and Liam Dawson (41) made important contributions.

Yadav was the pick of the home team bowlers with five for 60, but the others disappointed and the fielding was also below par on a good batting track at the Brabourne Stadium.

After India were asked to bat first, Rayudu played the sheet-anchor role for the home side before retiring to the pavilion after scoring exactly 100 to pave the way for Dhoni to entertain the big crowd.

Opener Shikhar Dhawan, coming off an injury lay-off, and Yuvraj Singh, recalled to the ODI and T20 squads to play against the visitors, made attacking half centuries by making 63 and 56 respectively to warm up nicely for the battles ahead.

Dhoni finished the home team innings on a high note by smacking England's Woakes for 24 runs in the final over, carting the fast bowler for two sixes and eight fours.

The Dhoni 'special', which helped the total breach the 300 mark, started off with an imperious flicked six over square leg that brought up the wicketkeeper's 50 off just 35 balls.

The huge crowd was given the full worth of their journey to the stadium and free entry by Dhoni's pyrotechnics. It all happened only because Rayudu retired after compiling his century in 97 balls with one six and 11 fours.

(With inputs from PTI)