With India A's tour to South Africa coming to an end on Tuesday, the big question is: what exactly have India gained in the last three weeks? Barring their defeat in the second four-day game, the A side did a fairly good job, winning the tri-series that included Australia A and beating the hosts by an innings in the first four-day encounter. Should we see the defeat in the second unofficial Test at Pretoria too remorsefully? The loss has only done the work of separating the wheat from the chaff.
Only two players - Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay - in the XI for the second match are expected to be selected in the touring party for the subsequent tour. While Pujara followed his 137 in the first match with a gritty fifty in the second, Vijay failed to make an impact in all three innings, following his 44 in the first match with four and nought in the second. Only time will tell whether this has put his Test slot under the scanner.
The failure of the other batsmen - barring a fighting 86 from Ajinkya Rahane and a gutsy 77* by Wriddhiman Saha - is disappointing as some of them could have staked their claims and challenged Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina for the vacant spots. Rohit and Raina had already done their work, scoring 119 and 135 in the first game at Rustenburg, though it could have been much better had the team management not rested both for the second match. The conditions at Pretoria for the second match were much more challenging than at Rustenburg, and runs there could have given them more confidence. While Rohit made 198 runs in the tri-series and 119 in the first Test, Raina too got runs (172 in the tri-series and 135 at Pretoria) as well as wickets (seven) on the tour.
Shikhar Dhawan although had an excellent tri-series where he scored a record 248, 85 and 62 in four matches, but could only make 11 in the first four-day game before being rested for the second. Giving him another go in the second game was of utmost importance as the ball nipped and seamed around and it would have provided him similar conditions that he would face in three months.
But the team management went with giving-everyone-a-chance theory. Although it backfired, it would have at least made clear that a few players will take more time to bridge the gap when exposed to challenging conditions. Rahane did a decent job with the limited chances he got. Although he scored only 10 in the first match, he made amends by scoring 23 and 86 in the second. With scores of 70, 57, 32, 34 in the tri-series, one had expected Ambati Rayudu would make it count when he was included in the second four-day match. But 29 and 1 at Pretoria spoiled an otherwise good trip.
Stuart Binny failed to justify his allrounder's tag. Barring his 4 for 55 against Australia A in the tri-series, his trip turned out to be rather miserable. He managed five wickets, including that four-for, and ten runs in six outings. It would be a difficult task for the selectors to pick the second specialist wicketkeeper for the South Africa tour as both Dinesh Karthik and Saha failed to impress with the bat as a whole. Both got just one fifty on the entire tour, though Karthik played seven innings compared to Saha's five. Saha was used as a specialist wicketkeeper in both four-day matches and claimed six catches and three stumpings.
Among the bowlers, fast bowler Ishwar Pandey was the most impressive. After getting five wickets in two matches of the tri-series, the 24-year old took 11 in the four-day games. He will definitely be a frontrunner if India decide to pick five pacers for the ensuing tour. The same cannot be said about Jaydev Unadkat and Siddarth Kaul. In the tri-series, Unadkat got four wickets in three matches and Kaul went wicketless. Both got to play the first four-day match but didn't leave a mark, getting one and two wickets respectively.
The left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem was impressive in both tri-series and four-day encounters. Although he was a tad expensive overall, Nadeem vindicated his selection by picking up wickets (nine in the tri-series and eight in the four-day matches). But with Ravindra Jadeja doing the job of second spinner for the Indian side effectively and his ability to bat lower down the order, it's hard to see Nadeem getting that place. Parvez Rasool did a decent job with the ball, picking up seven wickets in six outings, but more contributions with the bat might have helped him cause.
The tour was touted as the dress rehearsal before the senior team's trip and after three weeks the selectors might have got a fair idea about whom to consider when it comes to picking the Test side.