By Nishad Pai Vaidya
The need to groom young Indian talent is the crying need of the hour. While the Indian Premier League (IPL) grips the attention of cricket fans, the Indian national selectors quietly picked an India A side with an eye on the future – just what the doctor ordered after the nightmares in England and Australia.
The Cheteshwar Pujara-led side is scheduled to visit the Caribbean in June, giving the Indian team management the ideal opportunity to zero in on choices for the next Test assignment.
The India A team selected to tour West Indies is as follows: Cheteshwar Pujara (captain), Wriddhiman Saha (vice-captain), Abhinav Mukund, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, Rahul Sharma, Ashok Dinda, Jalaj Saxena, RP Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Robin Bist, Akshay Darekar and Shami Ahmed. The most interesting selections are that of Pujara, Rahane, Sharma and Tiwary – all who are on the fringes of the Indian Test team.
The appointment of Pujara is a welcome move as he seems to be temperamentally strong and in control of his emotions. His poor luck due to injury prevented him from establishing himself in the Indian Test squad and this gives him a lifeline to push for a comeback. What is heartening is that despite average performances since coming back from injury, he remains in the selectors’ plans as they have taken note of his precocious talent. Pujara is no stranger to a leadership role as he handled the reins for India A on a tour to England in 2010. The added responsibility did not burden him as he maintained his prolific run.
Rahane and Rohit had to warm the benches in Australia even as calls for their inclusion in the playing eleven intensified. With India hell bent on fielding their strongest side (all the seniors that is), it denied them the opportunity to hone their skills in the classical format. The frustration of sitting out would have been unnerving and the duo would be eagerly awaiting their Test debuts. Rohit is a proven match-winner in the One Day Internationals (ODIs) and T20s while Rahane is getting better with every outing irrespective of the format.
However, amongst all the promising batsmen, the most eager to perform would be Tiwary. He made sporadic ODI appearances over the years as the Indian team management treated him as a make-shift option. His century in the ODI against West Indies at Chennai in December didn’t change that as he hasn’t donned the Indian jersey since. He also faces the danger of being stereotyped as a one-day specialist. But he has a fantastic first-class record and has done well for India A and the Emerging Sides in the past.
Keeping Rahul Dravid’s retirement in perspective, the four batsmen would compete for the No 3 spot. India is scheduled to tour Sri Lanka in July for a Test series and that would be on the minds of these players. However, if VVS Laxman is asked to sit out, it may pave the way for one more to get into the Indian team. Virat Kohli’s fighting performances in Australia have placed him far ahead of the others in the pecking order and they would have to do something similar to grab their chances. It may be possible that Kohli may be promoted to number three and one of the quartet may have to bat at six.
In the midst of this raging competition, one mustn’t ignore the selection of Robin Bist – the highest run-scorer in the Indian first-class season. It is a reward for fantastic consistency and he would be the dark horse in the race for a spot in the Indian team. It would be difficult to fit him into the eleven as Mukund and Dhawan would open, followed by the quartet. Saha would play as the wicket-keeper and bat at No 7; the bowlers completing the rest of the line-up. If India A opt for a rotation policy like the senior team, players like Bist may get an even chance.
The decision to appoint Saha as the vice-captain is surprising to say the least. Earlier this season, he relinquished the East Zone captaincy saying that he is a reluctant leader. Consequently, Bengal had to change their plans of appointing him as the vice-captain of the team. Instead of him, someone like a Rohit or a Tiwary could have been handed the role. The other surprise was that the team doesn’t have a second wicket-keeper. Considering Dinesh Karthik’s consistent performances for Tamil Nadu, a call-up would have been just. Some may argue that his inclusion would have altered the whole make-up of the side. But, they could have carried 16 players instead of 15 to give better balance.
Dinda and Darekar have also been rewarded for good performances in the domestic season. However, the inclusion of Ahmed is surprising. Parwinder Awana – the Delhi seamer was the fourth highest wicket-taker in the first-class games and the highest in the List A matches. In contrast Ahmed has done well, but doesn’t have a record as impressive as that of Awana. In fact, Awana’s encouraging performances in the Indian Premier League (IPL) should have been accounted for while taking the final decision. The other notable absentee is Tadhuri Sudhindra – the second highest wicket-taker of the first-class season.
Although, the focus would be on the performances of the batsmen, it would be a mistake to ignore the bowling. India’s recent performances in ODIs have shown that the bowling isn’t in good shape. Which is why, the selection of Rudra Pratap Singh is a good tactical move. India must not lose a talent like him as he needs be handled well and given opportunities to prove himself. The selection in England was harsh on him and he even though he did decently well in the ODIs, the selectors chose to axe him. This call-up may be a new lease of life for RP Singh.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)