The selectors have picked an interesting side for India A’s tour to South Africa which features a few Test players and other contenders for the Test series which is to take place later this year. Nishad Pai Vaidya surveys the chances of each member of the touring party.
A side in transition would face its first litmus test when they tour the Rainbow Nation later this year. The recent past has seen the retirements of a few illustrious players and the struggles of other heavyweights. However, the arrival of a few promising youngsters buoyed them in the last few months. The Indian selectors have taken the first positive move by packing the India A side for the tour to South Africa with India’s new Test players in order to prepare them for the real challenge.
Cheteshwar Pujara would lead India A which contains the likes of Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha, Stuart Binny and Ambati Rayudu. Out of the ten players, at least three are near certainties for the Test series later this year. Vijay and Dhawan came into the series against Australia at the back of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag’s failures. They performed brilliantly and have almost booked their seats for the flight to South Africa barring a terrible run on the India A sojourn. Pujara has been brilliant since his comeback last year and would definitely bat at number three for India.
Thus, the India A tour is a chance for them to acclimatize to the conditions. Dhawan had a dream debut against Australia at Mohali as he smashed his way to a remarkable hundred. He also excelled in the tough conditions in England during the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 to show that he could make adjustments to his game. The most encouraging aspect of his game is his ability to tackle the chin music. He is unruffled by the pace of the ball and can pull the short ones comfortably.
Vijay altered his approach during the Test series against Australia and played the waiting game. The usually flashy and aggressive Vijay was conspicuous by his absence as he took his time in the middle. Instead of chasing the wide ones, he let them go through to the keeper — something that showed that he had brought in much-needed discipline into his game. That discipline is what is going to help him tackle the might of the South African pace battery. He has to persist with that approach during the A team tour as that also plays a perfect foil to Dhawan’s aggression.
Pujara has shown that he is the ideal successor to Rahul Dravid, but needs to prove that he can get runs in any conditions. If there is one flaw in his game, it is the compulsion to pull or hook anything short. While it has fetched him a lot of runs, it has also cost him his wicket a few times. The ball will come on a touch quicker in South Africa and he can make that critical adjustment on this tour before the big test.
For the others, it is a race to seal the remaining spots in the Indian Test squad. India have a settled batting line-up with Ravindra Jadeja coming in at number seven as the all-rounder. However, in South Africa, they might opt for the extra batsman as playing two spinners may not be feasible. That is where Rohit, Rahane, Raina and Rayudu come in. India need a few back-up batsmen in their side and a few good performances on this campaign might strengthen arguments in their favour.
Rohit and Rahane have been very consistent in domestic cricket and have been eyeing a graduation to the Test level. While Rahane has already donned the Test cap, the wait for Rohit continues. He needs to make a strong statement so that the selectors cannot deny him a spot in the team. His recent performances in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) show that he is applying himself and is ready to temper his brash approach. Rahane can make it as the reserve opener for India.
However, Raina is the one who would be really tested on this tour. The southpaw is very talented and is one of the cleanest strikers of the cricket ball. It is only that one flaw that has held him back in the Test arena. He also has this habit of poking outside the off-stump, something that will do him no good in South Africa. If Raina has overcome his weakness and delivers the goods for India A, the selectors would be confident and may draft him in the squad. Rayudu and Binny are outside candidates and the dark horses in the race.
On overseas tours, India prefer to carry a second wicketkeeper as an understudy to Dhoni. Saha had beaten Karthik in that race, but the Tamin Nadu stumper is back again with the weight of runs behind him. Both of them are good wicketkeepers and their batting would make all the difference to their chances.
Parvez Rasool and Shahbaz Nadeem are the two spinners in the India A squad. However, with Ravichandran Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Jadeja in the main team, they may have to bide their time even if they do well for India A. Shami Ahmed, Jaydev Unadkat, Ishwar Pandey and Siddharth Kaul are the seamers in the team. There may be a few spots up for grabs in the Test side as India would need a battery of bowlers on the main tour. Currently, Ahmed seems to be ahead in the pecking order.
The possibilities are exciting and the selectors have to be lauded for this move. They have made their job a lot easier as they would be able to make proper assessments ahead of the Test tour. There would be a competitive atmosphere in the India A dressing room and that might only get the best out of the players.
This India A tour is one that would be watched with great interest.