England Lions completed a strong >253-run win< against India A to offer their full national sides comfort and questions, respectively, ahead of the Test series. The day began with India A three down and needing an unlikely 411 for victory, but the opportunity for time in the middle was there to be taken. Three-and-a-half hours after the start, the game was up.
The hosts managed to garner more from the last four days: Alastair Cook's 180; 74 and 56 for Dawid Malan; 18 overs in the legs of Chris Woakes (three wickets, too). Three of the expected starting XI for the first Test at Edgbaston look to be ticking over ahead of the final round of Championship games next week. It is down to Cook and Essex, who host India in a tour match at Chelmsford, as to whether he will bat in that fixture.
As for India, twin failures for Murali Vijay and Karun Nair do not bode well given the lack of cricket they have had, but that can be tempered by the form of Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant. Mohammed Siraj, returning match figures of seven for 134, looked accomplished and leaves the match with the souvenir of Cook's wicket in the second innings - bowled for just five. Of the bowlers on show, none of whom are in the India squad for the first three Tests, he looks the most ready to make the step up if called upon.
On a day four pitch, all eyes, particularly those of national selector Ed Smith, were on how spinners Dominic Bess and Jack Leach would get on. While Bess debuted in the Test series against Pakistan earlier this year, taking three wickets - in the second innings of the second Test - and impressive with 111 runs, his chance came through a hand injury to Leach. Both were ready to go but found their opportunities limited, bowling just 10 overs between them, due to the success of other bowlers around them.
Sam Curran did not take long to add to his match tally - his seventh wicket seeing an end to Shahbaz Nadeem, taking out the nightwatchman's off stump. There was further disappointment for India A when Nair chipped tamely to cover off Chris Woakes. Spirits were lifted momentarily when Rahane and Pant came together and, for the second time in the match, set about restoring order.
They were unable to reach the heights of their 96-run stand in the first innings, falling for a collective 54 when Rahane, on 48, inexplicably launched Bess high rather than far, eventually falling into the hands of Matt Fisher at mid off. With his score of 49, it was another small milestone thrown away after his 48 on day three, but he looked otherwise untroubled. So, too, did Pant.
The ball after Rahane's wicket, Leach was brought on to give us our first glance at two of England's spin options bowling in tandem. His first delivery was lofted out of the ground by Pant for one of the two sixes the left-hander struck during his second fifty of the match. This one took 64 balls.
Bess, operating solely from the New Road End, was able to get through eight overs, finding the outside edge of Pant's bat for his second wicket but also finding the middle of others, meaning his two wickets cost 43 runs. Leach did what he could with the 12 balls he had and was unlucky that a few edges went away for boundaries rather than carried to those around the bat. His wicket of Jayanth Yadav - another skied catch to mid off - was deserved if a bit messy. At the end of the match, Lions skipper Rory Burns said there were no instructions from above to give Leach or any other bowler a certain number of overs. His duty was to marshal a winning side and, across the four days, he did so with distinction.
Both Bess and Leach will be back at New Road on Sunday when Worcestershire host Somerset and you'd imagine both would play a part given the manner in which this pitch aided turn as the game wore on. Another challenger to their spot, Moeen Ali, will also be playing in the match for Worcestershire, as he makes a last-ditch attempt to regain his Test spot.
Ali was dropped after the first Test in New Zealand in March following a difficult winter in the Ashes. However, he has found his groove again with the white ball in the ODI series against Australia and India this summer. He also had a summer to remember in 2014 when India last toured, taking 19 wickets against them an average of 23 in a 4-1 series win.
Smith will be present at the match to watch their progression and will also be keeping an eye on Worcestershire batsmen Joe Clarke. As the Lions closed in on victory, Smith took time to talk to Clarke, who had arrived at the ground at the start of the afternoon session. While he is carrying a niggle which saw him ruled out of the Rapids' Thursday night T20 Blast fixture against Durham Jets, he is expected to be fit for Sunday's fixture.
Clarke, a middle-order batsman, averages 50 in Division One of the Championship this season, having scored 600 runs with three centuries. While a shot-maker by design, he has displayed plenty of patience and steel in his young career. That was evident during a fixture with Nottinghamshire at the end of June in which he batted for over five hours, against a bowling attack featuring Stuart Broad, and single-handily saved Worcestershire from defeat with an unbeaten 177. It will also help Clarke's chances that recently appointed England selector James Taylor knows him well, having both come through the minor county system at Shropshire.
Brief scores: England Lions 423 (Alastair Cook 180; Mohammed Siraj 4-79) & 194/5d (Dawid Malan 56; Mohammed Siraj 3-55) beat India A 197 (Prithvi Shaw 62; Sam Curran 5-43) & 167 (Rishabh Pant 61; Sam Curran 2-17) by 253 runs