One after another, comeback attempts of India seniors has came a cropper, increasing the pressure on three players desperate to wear India whites one more time. After Zaheer Khan's futile toil on Wednesday, a no-show by Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag on Thursday has made life much more difficult for the out-of-favour trio, who have been thrown a rope by the selectors to prove their form in the unofficial Test series against West Indies A.
The boisterous crowd at Shimoga, venue of India A's second four-day game, left disappointed for two days in a row. Zaheer Khan was the first on the comeback roster after the Cheteshwar Pujara-led team was asked to field. But Zaheer's return was at best average and at times well below it, as his nine no-balls suggested.
The first day saw Zaheer send down 16 overs, returning meager figures of 1 for 44. While that can be understood in case of a bowler trying to take his rust off, what disappointed was the lack of indiscipline Zaheer showed in overstepping. The selectors will not expect such elementary mistakes from an experienced player, especially after he has been offered a chance to prove that he still has Test cricket left in him.
India needed to polish West Indies' tail quickly on the second morning, and Zaheer would have been expected to come out with his Plan B, but nothing like that happened. Leon Johnson and Nikita Miller were offered freebies to score freely on the second morning, adding 97 runs for the seventh wicket before left-arm spinner Bhargav Bhatt came on to mop up the last four wickets, improving his overnight figures to an excellent 7 for 113 and end the visitors' innings at 406. Zaheer was taken off after bowling just four overs on day two, ending with figures of 1 for 66 in 20 overs.
The crowd, that had waited patiently through the morning session, now had all eyes on Gambhir and Sehwag. While Gambhir came out to open, the team management granted Sehwag his wish to bat in the middle order by sending VA Jagadeesh to partner the Delhi left-hander.
While Jagadeesh was in control from ball one, Gambhir was clearly under pressure - concentrating more on arranging his defence than keeping the scoreboard ticking. It took Gambhir 19 balls to get off the mark, showing the nerves he had brought with him to the middle. In those 19 balls, Gambhir was already living a second life after the erroneous Fidel Edwards had him caught behind off a no-ball.
Edwards was replaced by spinner Veerasammy Permaul, in whom Gambhir saw a chance to break the shackles. The southpaw chose to release the pressure with a big shot, but it resulted in a skier that was safely pouched by Edwards at mid-wicket. Gambhir's sorry 44-ball, 1-hour-10-minute stay in the middle ended at a paltry 11.
Sehwag came in to loud cheers after the second wicket of Pujara (25) fell. The Indian skipper was foxed by the extra bounce Miller extracted, as the skipper's attempted sweep took the top edge that was easily held by Kieran Powell.
The clock had already crossed 3 p.m. when Sehwag came out without a helmet, wearing a blue cap. Sadly, for the crowd and Sehwag fans, the Nawab of Najafgarh lasted just 11 minutes, in which he faced 13 balls before becoming Permaul's second victim, scoring just seven.
During that 13-ball stay, Sehwag survived an lbw appeal against Permaul, earned three runs through a clip and punched a short ball off the back foot for a crisp four behind point. That was typical Sehwag, but the dismissal that followed was absolutely unlike Sehwag.
The veteran opener decided to lunge forward to a Permaul delivery but failed to read the flight that dragged him out of his crease to be swiftly stumped by wicketkeeper Chadwick Walton.
A sad hindsight to the failures of Gambhir and Sehwag was they failed to read how well Jagadeesh (79*) was batting and pacing his innings at the other end. The Kerala batsman never reached out to the ball and waited for it to arrive before deciding on the stroke to offer. But having said that, Jagadeesh was under no pressure, while the veteran duo must be keeping an eye on the score against their name, which, in the end, accounted for their failure.
But it's still not over as Zaheer, Sehwag and Gambhir will have another chance in the second innings in Shimoga as well as in the final four-day game that follows. Will they make it count? Time will tell.