Mumbai: The purpose of the three-day warm-up match between India A and an England XI at the Brabourne Stadium, which ended in a draw on Thursday, was two-fold. For the touring England cricket team, it was obviously an opportunity to acclimatize and get a feel for things ahead of the first Test starting November 15. From an Indian perspective, the match provided a chance for the new selection committee to scope out key players ahead of its meeting on Monday to pick the squad for the Ahmedabad Test.
On the basis of the performances of India’s Test hopefuls over three days in Mumbai, we take a look at the who emerged with their heads held high and who would be feeling a tad uncomfortable ahead of the BCCI selectors’ meeting on November 5.
Yuvraj the big positive
The main contenders for the vacant No. 6 spot in India’s Test lineup are Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, and on the basis of this warm-up match the man who seems to have moved ahead is Yuvraj.
Yuvraj’s 241-ball 208, which spanned over five-and-a-half hours, for North Zone in the Duleep Trophy recently would have given the selectors reason to take notice. Playing a big innings against the English would have been at the top of Yuvraj’s priority coming into this game and now, with a fine all-round performance in Mumbai, the 30-year-old looks to have a strong chance of adding to his 37 Test caps.
In the first innings, Yuvraj hit four sixes in an 80-ball 59 but it was with the ball that he perhaps did more to push his claim for a spot in India’s Test team. Raina’s slow-bowling options were limited because of the absence of a spinner in the India A squad, and Yuvraj taking 5 for 94 from 26.5 overs was significant. With his third ball, Yuvraj drew Kevin Pietersen into a false drive; in his next over he had Ian Bell caught at slip with a classic left-hander’s ball that drifted away. Having bowled 16 overs on day two, Yuvraj sent down 65 deliveries on the final day from which he took 3 for 42.
His was a fine all-round performance that the new selectors will find hard to ignore when they meet on Monday. Considering that a few of England’s batsman struggled against Yuvraj, it also leaves the imagination to wonder how they will face R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha.
Raina fails to stamp his presence
Prior to the match against the England XI, Raina appeared to have a head start in the race for the No. 6 spot considering he batted at that position against New Zealand this year. But given the chance to captain India A, he did not do anything with the bat. In the first innings he made 20 off 32 balls before falling to Samit Patel and in the second remained not out on 19 off 35. Thirty-nine runs for once out was not what Raina would have wanted to take from this match.
The wicket of Jonathan Trott, bowled for 56 when playing back to a Raina offbreak, was not much consolation.
Tiwary emerges a Test contender
With the focus on Yuvraj v Raina before the match, Manoj Tiwary was allowed to go on with business. And with a stroke-filled 93 in the first innings against James Anderson, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann and Patel, the Bengal batsman has put his name in the reckoning for the first Test squad.
From 140 for 4, and then 168 for 5 when Yuvraj departed, Tiwary took India toward 369 with a determined innings highlighted by his driving and cutting of the England spinners. Previously the 26-year-old’s first-class performances had not been enough to impress the Indian selectors, but this high-quality effort may be a turning point.
Rahane secure as back-up opener
The frontrunner for the position of back-up opener remains the domestic run-machine Ajinkya Rahane, who has been a part of India’s last two Test squads. The Mumbai batsman smoothed over 4 in the first innings with 54 off 98 balls in the second. Though Abhinav Mukund hit a brisk, boundary-laden 73 in the first innings, Rahane appears to be firmly in place when it comes to discussions of India’s top-order options.
Saha damages his chances
India don’t always name reserve wicketkeepers for home Tests, but considering the workload that MS Dhoni has had to shoulder and the fact that the retirements of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman put more emphasis on the captain’s batting, there is reason to believe that a backup glovesman is needed. That man, on the basis of his natural talent and the fact that he toured Australia, would be Bengal’s Wriddhiman Saha.
However, three dropped catches and his dismissal for 20 when not offering a shot to Anderson did little to boost Saha’s chances of selection. When Patel was on 29, Saha spilled a chance down the leg side off pacer Parwinder Awana; when Alastair Cook was on 88, Saha dropped an edge off Yuvraj; a third drop came off Yuvraj when Patel was on 61.
Dinda still in the mix, but just
There would have been much focus on Ashok Dinda in Mumbai considering India are in need of identifying who their fast bowlers for the future are. The Bengal bowler topped the wickets’ list in the previous Ranji Trophy season and has had two strong Duleep Trophy seasons in a row, but figures of 23-2-86-2 – Nick Compton for 0 and Cook for 119, both caught behind – may just have left the selectors more interested in Ishant Sharma as the third fast bowler behind Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav.