The three-day India A game against England starting in Mumbai on Tuesday will be of much interest as quite a few of the home team players will using the opportunity to stake a claim in the Test side. The prolonged struggle of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir has given four players a window of opportunity to aspire for an opening slot in the Tests against England.
Of greater immediacy is the competition for the No 6 slot, a position that has changed hands a number of times in recent years. The practice game against England is a fantastic opportunity for the men in the fray to make an impression and get their nose ahead of the others. The frontrunners for this spot are Suresh Raina and the comeback hero Yuvraj Singh. Raina played the Test series against New Zealand and had one good knock of note, but the compelling return of Yuvraj has spiced up things. The fact that Raina is being made to play the India A game shows that he has a strong contender in Yuvraj. If the selectors were confident about Raina’s credentials, then perhaps they may have given someone else an opportunity in England’s tour opener.
Yuvraj’s return to cricket and his subsequent progress has been faster than one expected. A double hundred on return to First-class cricket is simply phenomenal. It’s a knock that underlined his improving physical condition as also his character. He has fought a battle much larger than the one on the cricket field and that has certainly made him tougher and more focused.
Yuvraj has always been in phenomenal limited-overs player who exhibited flashes of brilliance in the Test arena. However, the Yuvraj we see today is a different person and in a mentally better position to succeed in the classical format of the game.
Raina was an iffy choice for the Test series against New Zealand and although he had one good hit, doubts remain over his ability to play the rising balls in the conventional form of cricket. Raina is a one-day dasher – along the lines of a Yuvraj – with phenomenal talent, but that one flaw has got the better of him a number of times. It isn’t clear whether he has corrected the shortcoming against the short ball and one may only find out when India travels abroad. For now, he would be feeling the heat with Yuvraj providing a strong challenge.
An encouraging knock by Yuvraj would certainly put him ahead of Raina in the pecking order. The selectors may also weigh in factors beyond the cricket field. At this stage, Yuvraj may actually inspire more confidence than a Raina for the longer version.
Manoj Tiwary is a dark horse in the race and would have work his way away from the spotlight. He averages over 50 in First-class cricket - higher than both Yuvraj and Raina. However, for some bizarre reason he has always been labelled a one-day player. For years he has been consistent for Bengal and deserves a look-in for the longer format. However, it is well-known that Lady Luck doesn’t favour him as he finds himself warming the benches despite performing well when handed the stray opportunity.
One can look at the No 6 spot as a breeding ground for higher positions in the batting order. The likes of Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara have been promoted from there and have done well in their new roles. It isn’t clear whether the selectors look at that spot and say that it is one for someone who has to be groomed for the longer run. Sachin Tendulkar would call it a day sometime in the near future and the man who bats at No 6 would, in all likelihood, move one spot up. The long-term vision is as important as the immediate concern.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site's YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_