By Sarang Bhalerao
On September 10, 2013, the selection committee announced the India A squad for the three four-day games against West Indies A, which generated a lot of interest. The India A side has recently played in South Africa and in India against New Zealand A. The teams just got a little space in the newspapers and on the web world. The recent selection for the four-day matches has the members who were once the lynchpins of Indian cricket. If you ever thought these men are the forgotten men in Indian cricket, the selectors’ actions have passed a strong message: ‘We still need you for the future’.
Let us look at the names which the selection committee went for: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan and Mohammad Kaif as well. While the first two names, Sehwag and Gambhir, were India’s openers across all formats, Yuvraj has been a rare talent who has flourished in the limited overs format. The selectors have given him yet another chance to stake a claim in the limited overs format though. He is not part of the four-day games. So is it end of road for Yuvi?
Let’s focus on the Delhi openers. It will be a mammoth task for the duo to break into the side immediately as Shikhar Dhawan is certain to open the innings unless he is injured. Murali Vijay has been consistent in the limited opportunities that he has got and thus it would be extremely diabolic to sideline him. The selectors have passed a strong message with the inclusion of Sehwag and Gambhir in the A side:
The third message that the selectors have passed is that there is a healthy competition in the team which will get the best out of the players almost always.
Zaheer Khan was one of the main reasons why India were at the pinnacle of Test rankings back in 2009. He spearheaded the attack and has been the most complete bowler in the recent past. But the problem of fitness went against him. Since fitness and levels of performances are intrinsically related, his performances were skewed. The recent training programme in France might help Zaheer regain the lost zing, which is what India desperately need before the gruelling tours of South Africa, New Zealand and England. Zaheer has been proven performer in all these countries. In New Zealand he was India’s best bowler in 2002 when the late movement and swing had the Kiwis in all sorts of trouble. In England in 2007, Zaheer won the Nottingham Test almost single-handedly as he snared nine English wickets. In South Africa, Zaheer was one of the main reasons for an Indian win in Durban in 2010-11.
India would look to have a fully fit Zaheer in these tours. Over the years, Zaheer’s injury in the middle of a tour had sparked pandemonium in India. The fast bowling resources, which one feels is rich, all of a sudden appear depleted and there is a merry-go-round. And what is the situation that triggers such unsteadiness and commotion: Zaheer’s fitness.
Yuvraj’s cup of tea is the limited overs format and he was duly selected to lead the three one-dayers and one Twenty20 match. But first he needs to get match-fit. The Indian all-rounder has still good years of cricket left in him. He is a proven performer and has arguably won India many games on his own. His pet peeve has been the longest format of the game. Ever since his debut in 2000 the southpaw has had sporadic appearances in the white flannels. The story has been either of brilliant highs or disappointing lows.
No one doubts Yuvraj’s talent. In fact, in 2004, Yuvraj was made to open with Sehwag. It was impossible to accommodate Yuvraj in the packed middle order. But that move proved counterproductive. The selectors’ line of thinking was if Sehwag can excel as an aggressive opener, why not Yuvraj? Back then and even now Yuvraj has not looked an integral part of the Test team. Will this stint with the India A help the cause? It might, but Yuvraj’s battle is with the inner demons. He has all the ingredients to succeed in the longest format of the game.
Yuvraj’s Under-19 skipper Kaif’s inclusion is interesting. The Uttar Pradesh batsman has been out-of-favour for a long time. The 32-year-old Kaif has been lost in the wilderness. So what could be the reason to include Kaif? If one looks at the Indian middle-order in Test cricket it has Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli. There is still a question about who would take up the No 6 spot? So are the selectors passing on the message: ‘Hey Kaif we are looking at you to grab the No 6 spot in Test cricket. Here’s your chance.’
Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Subramaniam Badrinath or Suresh Raina are the possible contenders for the spot. So far, no one has really been impressive in the middle-order. Rahane batted at No 5 and scored seven and one in his only Test. Raina scored a ton on his debut at No 6, but that is the only highlight of his Test career so far.
The only thing that might work in Kaif’s favour is the international experience he has batting at six. He has scored a lone century batting at that position against West Indies at Gros Islet in 2006. But after that series, Kaif was shown the door and he has never been able to make a comeback in the Indian scheme of things.
Mohammad Kaif vs others at No 6 position
The selectors might well be thinking of getting in Kaif, who has a sorted technique compared to the other two. Yuvraj tends to play with hard hands, which often has him in trouble, while Raina’s problem with the short ball and his temperament is in question when it comes to Test cricket. Last year, India needed close to 90 runs for a win over New Zealand at Bangalore. Raina was tied down by Jeetan Patel courtesy of some tight bowling. Raina looked to hit his way out of the trouble and played a needless big shot. He tried to hoick Patel over the top but missed the ball completely and was bowled.
Analysis of the squad
India A squad for the first four-day game against West Indies A:
Cheteshwar Pujara (c), Jiwanjot Singh, KL Rahul, Manpreet Juneja, Rajat Paliwal, Harshad Khadiwale, Parvez Rasool, Bhargav Bhatt, Ishwar Pandey, Mohammed Shami, Ashok Dinda, Rohit Motwani (wk), Dhawal Kulkarni, Paras Dogra.
The selectors have chosen proven domestic performers in this squad. Led by the Saurashtra run machine and India’s No 3 batsman Pujara, the unit has a blend of youth and experience. Mohammad Shami, Ashok Dinda, Ishwar Pandey and Dhawal Kulkarni have been impressive in the 2012 domestic season. Pandey had an impressive India A tour against South Africa A. Dinda played limited overs cricket for India and Shami too was part of Indian team in the recent past.
Jiwanjot has had a fantastic start to his First-Class career for Punjab scoring truckloads of runs. KL Rahul stood out in India Under-23 win in Singapore. Manpreet Juneja scored 193 against New Zealand A in the unofficial Test match. He is one of the finest young batsmen in the country today.
Parvez Rasool and Bhargav Bhatt have been impressive and would be looking to notch up promising performances.
India A squad for the second and third four-day games against West Indies A:
Cheteshwar Pujara (c), Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Sheldon Jackson, Abhishek Nayar, Paras Dogra, Uday Kaul (wk), Parvez Rasool, Bhargav Bhatt, Dhawal Kulkarni, Zaheer Khan, Ishwar Pandey, Mohammed Shami, Mohammad Kaif.
Rahul, Juneja, Paliwal, Jiwanjot and Khadiwala will not be part of the Tests and Uday Kaul will replace Motwani as a wicketkeeper.
The players to watch out for will be the erstwhile Indian Test cricketers and also Abhishek Nayar who has been domestic workhorse for Mumbai.
The selectors have ensured that the ex-international cricketers get in touch and have the hunger to get back into the national side. The platform has also been provided for the domestic performers to showcase their talent.
Be rest assured the strong performances of the India A team will help the Indian national side indirectly. There will be a lot of competition for the places, make no mistake about that.
The selectors deserve a pat on their back. Indian cricket is headed in the right direction.
(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)