Chennai: A small band of touring Australians will look to absorb as much as possible from the first of two warm-up matches starting in Chennai on Tuesday, while the India hopefuls in the Board President's XI will be out to prove points to the national selectors. Of the full Australian squad of 18, only 11 are currently in India and that leaves no room for injury over the next two days at the MA Chidambaram stadium.
With the ball, getting the most out of fast bowlers Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and Jackson Bird will be imperative in sapping conditions. The two Mitchells, Starc and Johnson, have not arrived in India and so getting in good match experience will be key to Bird and Pattinson making a claim for the first Test starting here on February 22. For Pattinson especially this is a big match as he looks to keep himself match-fit ahead of what should be his first full season of international cricket. The 22-year-old was outstanding against India in Australia in 2011-12 before injuring himself and was not the same bowler when South Africa toured late last year.
Another key aspect of the game will be the performances of allrounders Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell and Moises Henriques as they battle for a spot in the side for the first Test. Along with Smith and Maxwell, Nathan Lyon will be expected to bowl a lot of overs in this match and against India A. Lyon faces competition for the Test XI with Xavier Doherty, set to land in India with the other players this week.
The Australians will be led by wicketkeeper-batsman Matthew Wade, who is the second-most experienced member of the 11 in India with nine Test caps to Peter Siddle's 37. He will slot into the middle order behind Ed Cowan and Test hopeful Usman Khawaja, and alongside Smith and the uncapped Henriques and Maxwell to follow.
Though he is not part of the Test squad, 19-year-old West Australian spin bowler Ashton Agar made headlines after being called up as a net bowler for this tour after two impressive first-class matches this season. This is the only match Agar has been granted, so how he bowls will be a matter of interest considering the rapid rise he has made since his domestic debut in January.
Unlike the India squad to play the Australians in Chennai from February 16-18, the Board President's XI does not feature any players named in the Test team. However, there are a few players pushing for national selection and thus the selectors will keep a track on this match.
Baroda's Ambati Rayudu scored a fine century for Rest of India in the Irani Trophy and runs against the likes of Pattinson, Siddle and Bird could push him further up the pecking order. Parthiv Patel is coming off a strong Ranji Trophy season (895 runs at 68.84) for Gujarat and will be eyeing a strong performance in Chennai to bolster his chances of an India recall, especially with MS Dhoni's workload and form being a matter of debate in recent times. Bengal seamer Shami Ahmed has watched his ODI new-ball partner Bhuvneshwar Kumar make it to the Test squad after a few impressive 50-over spells and should have the Test team in his sights too. How Ahmed bowls against Cowan, Khawaja and Wade could indicate where he stands.
Also in the team is Robin Uthappa, who last played for India in a one-off Twenty20 international last March but has not worn the India kit in ODIs since July 2008. With India's opening problems extending to limited-overs cricket, a good showing from Uthappa could put his name in selectors' frame of mind for the future.
The Board President's XI squad includes three spinners in Punjab legspinner Sarabjit Ladda, Jammu & Kashmir offspinning allrounder Parvez Rassol and Saurashtra's offbreak bowler Kamlesh Makvana. Of the trio, Rassol took the most wickets (33) in the recent Ranji Trophy followed by Makvana (24) and Ladda (12). Rassol will play as the second allrounder after Karnataka's Stuart Binny, and hope to make an impression following one limited-overs match against an England XI in January.
Board President's XI: 1 Abhinav Mukund (capt), 2 Robin Uthappa, 3 Mandeep Singh, 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 Kedar Jadhav, 6 Parthiv Patel (wk), 7 Stuart Binny, 8 Parvez Rassol, 9 Kamlesh Makvana, 10 Parvinder Awana, 11 Shami Ahmed
Australians: 1 Ed Cowan, 2 Usman Khawaja, 3 Glenn Maxwell, 4 Matthew Wade (capt/wk), 6 Steve Smith, 7 Moises Henriques, 8 Nathan Lyon, 9 Peter Siddle, 10 James Pattinson, 11 Jackson Bird, 11 Ashton Agar