ABU DHABI // Adil Rashid celebrated his 22nd birthday by reminding England's hierarchy of his capabilities, before Craig Kieswetter stole the show by delivering the knock-out blow to the senior side at the Zayed Stadium yesterday. Kieswetter was also toasting a landmark day of his own. This was the first match he had played as an officially qualified England player, after four years as a resident in Somerset.
The South Africa-born wicket-keeper batsman had been subjected to an overture from the captain of his homeland, Graeme Smith, to return and represent the Proteas before Christmas. However, he confirmed his commitment to his adopted country after leading the second-string England side to a five-wicket Twenty20 win over their senior counterparts. "I have always been 100 per cent committed to playing for England," said Kieswetter. "I'm excited about this next part of my career, especially now the four-year qualifying period is up. As nice as it was to hear that from a quality player like Graeme Smith, it did not have any effect on me or my career or where I want to go."
Kieswetter was no doubt buoyed by the words of praise directed his way by Andy Flower, the England team director, last week. He seized his chance to impress with a brutal innings worth 81 from 66 balls, only to fall just as he was setting himself to seal the victory. "I was a little nervous, but nerves can be quite good," he added. "Most of the boys were trying to set out a marker in terms of where they are with their game towards the national side.
"The national side want to go out and win every game leading up to their series against Pakistan, but the Lions have come off a nice series win as well. "It was quite and aggressive, high-tempo game, and that showed as they bowled a lot of short stuff to us batters." It was not just the second-string batsmen who impressed. The leg-spinner, Rashid, was part of England's squad for their tour of South Africa, yet failed to impress and has since been demoted to the second-string Lions side.
However, he proved his point here by taking three big wickets for the Lions. He dismissed the captain, Paul Collingwood, as well as Kevin Pietersen and the Indian Premier League-bound Eoin Morgan. The seniors recovered thanks to a late-order salvo from Luke Wright. The Sussex all-rounder peppered the boundary in a 21-ball stay that was eventually worth 42, hoisting his side to 157 in the process. When Michael Lumb and Kieswetter then set about the England bowling attack the result seemed certain to favour the underdogs.
Lumb set the pace as he raced to 40 from 29 balls, before he retired hurt after he was hit in the face by a Stuart Broad bouncer. Fortunately for the Lions, Lumb had returned to full health in time to return to the crease for the final overs, and coaxed them over the line by hitting the final two balls to the fence. firstname.lastname@example.org