Gale blows Lions to series win
Andrew Gale and Darren Stevens shone with the bat as England Lions won the Triangular Series following a five-wicket win over India A at Worcester.
Chasing 279 to win the final, Gale's patient 90 was the mainstay of a perfectly-paced chase although Darren Stevens provided some impetus with a characteristic blood and thunder innings of 68 as England Lions won with eight balls remaining.
It was the Kent batsman's third half-century of the series and despite Ravi Bopara, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott grabbing the headlines, Stevens' average of 80 puts those three in the shade.
However, England made a disastrous start in their chase when they lost Alastair Cook for four in the second over, leg before as he tried to work a straight ball from Jayadev Unadkat into the legside.
But Steven Davies, displaying immaculate timing, and a watchful Gale adopted different tactics as they started to piece the innings together.
Davies, playing at his former ground, looked as comfortable as a city worker returning home to his favourite pipe and slippers as he clipped and punched sweetly either side of the wicket.
He reached an exquisite 50 off 52 balls, raising his bat after pulling one of nine boundaries towards the famous cathedral - but that would be his last contribution as he was caught and bowled for 55.
At 80 for two after 17 overs, India A must have sighed at the sight of Ravi Bopara marching down the steps of the Graeme Hick Pavilion and his arrival at the crease spurred Gale to slip into a higher gear.
Sweeping powerfully against the spinners but also employing deft glances and the occasional reverse, Gale traded boundaries with Bopara as England Lions rattled along at five runs an over.
The pair took boundaries off Manoj Tiwary, Bopara striking a luscious drive and Gale timing a pull, to take the score to 127 for two at the end of the 26th over.
Gale brought up his half-century from 71 balls but he lost Bopara soon after, the Essex man missing a straight ball from the returning Unadkat that careered into off stump.
Hearts were in mouths next ball, though, when Darren Stevens, shuffling back and across, survived a huge shout for leg before. Undeterred by the close call, the in-form Stevens marched on with Gale who was now in full stride.
Running hard between the wickets and hitting boundaries regularly, both batsmen tucked into the slow bowling with Gale paddling cutely and Stevens a bit more brutal with anything dropped short.
Each hit fours off the increasingly angry Jaskaran Singh to bring the required runs needed to 68 from 10 overs.
However, India A were given a lifeline two overs later when Gale, 10 short of a deserved century, nicked Singh behind. But that was merely the catalyst for Stevens to call for the powerplay and open his broad shoulders.
He danced down the wicket to Singh and smashed him for six over long-on, a shot which took him to 51 although he did not register the landmark, perhaps being too focused on the job at hand.
Two balls later he gave himself room to squirt a four through the covers as the victory post came in sight.
Having made 68 from just 53 balls and taken England Lions to 260 for four, he holed out in front of the Basil D'Oliveira Stand but the damage was already done by then.
The pesky James Taylor, whose scampering between the wickets is a real feature of his game, promptly swept Iqbal Abdulla for six to allay any fears of a late collapse.
Earlier in the day Stephen Parry took 3-48 on his England Lions debut as India A set England Lions a tough chase at a sunny New Road.
England Lions were given a boost at the start of the day when Cook, who missed the previous three matches with a back injury, was passed fit to lead the side.
Two days after the same two teams played out a thrilling tie in which India A scrambled a bye off the final ball, Cook won the toss and opted to bowl first on a new wicket.
He might have had a few regrets as Abhinav Mukund and Shikhar Dhawan tore into the new ball, the pair displaying a penchant for anything full which would be dispatched with an elegant drive.
One straight drive from Mukund off Sajid Mahmood evaded the diving pair of Gale and Parry, the ball squeezing through outstretched hands like a busy London commuter diving through closing tube doors.
Dhawan looked the more dangerous of the two and consecutive boundaries in the seventh over off the unusually erratic Chris Woakes suggested the left-hander was set for something big.
With the 50 coming up in the eighth over, Dhawan continued his onslaught on Woakes, creaming another pull to the boundary as the Warwickshire man's normally reliable slower ball deserted him.
But after reaching 39 from just 30 deliveries, he was dismissed by a fired-up Liam Plunkett, Dhawan getting a nick down leg from an attempted pull with Davies diving to take a fine catch.
The home side were celebrating another wicket in the 15th over as India A were reduced to 90 for two when Ajinkya Rahane heaved Mahmood to deep midwicket where Peter Trego, careful not to touch the boundary rope, took a well-judged catch.
The wicket brought in India A's graceful captain Cheteshwar Pujara, who has been the outstanding batsman in this competition and he lived up to the billing.
But before he could unfurl his array of attractive shots, Parry claimed the first of three wickets on an impressive first outing for the Lions.
He first dismissed Mukund for 62 with Trego taking another excellent catch as England Lions began to squeeze the runs during the middle overs. Parry worked well in tandem with the miserly Trego who, despite being wicketless, conceded just 37 from 10 overs.
Parry picked up another wicket in the 36th over, Stevens this time pouching another skied catch at long-on, and it was not long until the 24-year-old was picking up his third wicket with Wriddhiman Saha leg before sweeping a ball which hit him on the full.
At 206 for five with eight overs remaining, Pujara, relatively sedate until now, opted to take the powerplay which was the cue for a late rally led by Manish Pandey launching the returning Woakes for six over long-off.
Pujara, en route to an unbeaten 87, joined in the fun by heaving Woakes for another maximum, this time over long-on as India A finished strongly.