India A in South Africa: Upcoming First-Class games of prime importance for the batting

Cheteshwar Pujara is the only player in the India A squad who has firmly established himself in the Test side and has been sent to get some valuable practice before the face-off against South Africa later this year © AFP

India A may have won the one-day tri-series in South Africa on the strength of their batting, but the performances in the First-Class games are of prime importance, says Nishad Pai Vaidya.
Shikhar Dhawan’s scintillating performances have helped India A clinch the tri-series in South Africa. It was a tournament that saw the Indian batsmen plunder runs and march towards victory against the representative sides from Australia and South Africa. While the team management would be assured by this performance, they would know that they have a tougher assignment on their hands. The First-Class matches against South Africa A commence on August 17 and in a way, it is a dress rehearsal to the big Test series against the mighty Proteas later this year.

Although India A have marched to victory in the tri-series, a very pertinent fact is that most of the batsmen in the playing eleven have been a part of the senior side in recent months. Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have opened the batting for India since the ICC Champions Trophy 2013. Dinesh Karthik and Suresh Raina have also been fixtures in the side. Only Cheteshwar Pujara and Ambati Rayudu are yet to get an extended run in the senior one-day team. Thus, India A was relatively stronger when compared to the batting units of their opponents.

When the same unit moves into the First-Class games, the equations change. Firstly, Pujara is the only player who has firmly established himself in the Test side and has been sent to get some valuable practice before the face-off later this year. Dhawan’s amazing century on Test debut also assures him a spot at the top in the Test line-up along with Murali Vijay, who had a good time during the home series against Australia. For the others, it is a chance to prove themselves and push for a berth in the touring party. They may not get a game on the big tour, but may be in the fray for the later series. After all, Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement is around the corner and his exit would leave a hole at No 4. Even if Virat Kohli is promoted to that spot, No 5 would still be up for grabs.

Rohit, Raina, Rayudu and Ajinkya Rahane are the main contenders in the race. Rahane may have greater chances as India would need a back-up opener for that tour and he does bat at the top in domestic First-Class cricket. For Raina, it is an acid test in those conditions as he has to show that he has rectified his flaws against the short-stuff. On the other hand, Karthik and Wriddhiman Saha would compete for the second wicket-keeper’s slot.

While the selectors have done a sensible thing by sending the likes of Pujara and Dhawan alongside the fringe players, one doesn’t know how much it would benefit them. If they do well, it would be a confidence booster nonetheless. As Barry Richards, the South African legend pointed out in a conversation with H Natarajan, the Executive Editor of CricketCountry, the wickets during this time of the year are hard and very dry in South Africa. By the time India travels for the Test series, they may have to tackle greener surfaces and the formidable attack comprising Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn.

The attack India A would face does have some quality though. Kyle Abbot and Marchant de Lange have played Test cricket for South Africa and have shined on their respective debuts. They may be in the fray for their Test squad as back-ups for the famed pace trio. India A would have to survey them very well and chalk out strategies to tackle them.

In the one-day tri-series, India may have trumped South Africa A on both occasions, but now comes the business end. The squad has flown to South Africa for exposure in the longer version and the performances may have some implications for the make-up of India’s bench strength and the confidence of some others when they return to the Rainbow Nation for a more intense ball-game.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)