With Rahul Dravid’s retirement, there is a vacant batting spot in the test team for the first time in years. The slot is up for grabs, and will be desperately competed for- because it is a direct place in the team, and not on the bench. Number 3, the most important batting position in the Indian team.
That said, bowling spots are available almost every test match- what with the likes of Harbhajan being dropped, Zaheer always injured, Ishant yet to regain fitness and Ashwin yet to impress. Hence, BCCI’s decision to have India A get out of their comfort zone and tour other countries, is a good one. They’re going the full hog, in order to get that crucial combination at the top of the order right, and domestic cricket was never really going to be enough.
But while the rest of India obsessed over whether their beloved team would show a glimpse of form or brilliance in a prolonged home season, after a disastrous 2011- this India A team, led by managed Lalchand Rajput, quietly departed for the West Indies, to play their A team. Many would say that their current test squad looks a lot like an A team, but Sammy would like to hear none of it.
What was heartening to see is the sheer strength of India A- a top heavy team that mirrored their national team in many ways, starting as overwhelming favorites, what with most of them having played international cricket.
Johnson playing The Joker
Pujara, prime contender for the number 3 slot, led the team. Rohit made himself available, this signaling his desperate intent to finally get that elusive test debut. Tiwary, Rahane and Mukund- all ODI fringe players, after a good IPL, were confident of doing well in alien conditions. Saha, the keeper, has been India’s no. 2 for ages- also only one of two in this team to have played a test. Then there was the much-hyped Dinda, and the relatively unknown Shami Ahmed. All in all, that batting line-up, atleast at home, could make any first team. If nothing, this would be valuable experience for them after previous Indian teams have struggled in West Indian conditions.
Powell after a disastrous England Tour
The unofficial test series began. The first test was played at Barbados, and right away, the signs were clear. Pujara scored a calm 50, Rohit a typically-strokeful 94. It was going to be a good tour, and this meant good things for India’s future. Even when they found themselves down 110-8 chasing 185 in the fourth innings, somehow, it was always theirs to lose. Pujara then called upon the ghost of VVS Laxman past, and played an innings that made him temporary favorite to enter the team- a brilliant 96 with the last three wickets, and more importantly, an unlikely victory. West Indies A must wonder what it was, that all their teams seem to possess- a consistent inability to win, or a stubborn refusal to wrap things up? Whatever it was, it’d be fun to see Pujara and Rohit battle it out for two more tests.
The second test began promisingly, with Pujara edging ahead, with a third 50 in 4 innings. Rohit began throwing away starts, and it was left to the likes of Saha to clean up. And then, a country’s worst fears came true. Indian fans would find it amusing that their A team have performed eerily similarly to the national team. Failing to touch 300 in all three tests with a superstar-filled batting order, their bowlers trying their best but falling to one typically-massive partnership by the opposition (Powell’s 138), and a fast-bowling trio previously unknown (Johnson, McClean and Holder) tormenting them with pace, line and length.
No Hit, Rohit?
India A threw away the psychological edge, and crashed to a shattering defeat in the second test- being bowled out for less than 100 while chasing a score above 200. It was always going to be difficult to come back from here. It was also a familiar overseas position to be in, and Pujara- despite his commanding form- would have to be part of this disaster. It was Rohit’s tour to shine in once again, but he seemed to have other ideas- still in IPL mode, and refusing to claim that no. 3 as his own.
In the third test, a similar pattern followed- an opening partnership that refused to score more than 16 all tour (Mukund and Rahane), a patch-up job gone wrong in the middle-order, and an opposition batsman feasting on the likes of Saxena. It was also interesting to note that the only players who performed decently in this tour had been the ones relatively obscure in the IPL- Pujara, Saha, Ahmed. The team struggled to overhaul a simple lead of 100 runs, by putting up less than 200 in their second innings, and seemed resigned to their fate, letting West Indies A chase down 90-odd with 10 wickets in hand.