Mysore: When Cheteshwar Pujara leads out his mates against West Indies A at the pretty Gangothri Glades Stadium in Mysore on Wednesday (September 25) for the first of three four-day games, it will be the only time in the series he will be doing so with a legitimate 'A' selection of players.
Only a handful of members of the India A team for the Mysore game have represented India, but for the next two games, Pujara will have in his ranks Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer Khan - three spots in the playing XI that there will be no discussion about.
Pujara, along with Lalchand Rajput, the India A coach, might not have issues of that scale to deal with in Mysore, but there's still at least one headache to address - the bowling attack. The squad has given the management six options to choose from, four of them pacers and two of them, Parveez Rasool and Bhargav Bhatt, spinners.
Against West Indies A, on a pitch that suggests excitement for pacers on the opening day but not much after that, opting for a two-and-two combination would be logical. Thankfully for Pujara, Rasool is likely to be counted as an allrounder and, therefore, the No. 7 batsman, which allows him to pick three of the four pacemen and throw Bhatt in as well. But who among Dhawal Kulkarni, Ishwar Pandey, Ashok Dinda and Mohammad Shami will be asked to sit out could be the big question.
Pujara himself, Manprit Juneja and Rohit Motwani, the young Maharashtra wicketkeeper, are obvious batting choices while Harshad Khadiwale, the Maharashtra opener, seems likely to miss out, considering the presence of Jiwanjot Singh and KL Rahul. The last spot in the order, the No. 5 batsman, should be a toss up between Paras Dogra, the Himachal Pradesh veteran, and Rajat Paliwal, the promising Services man with a first-class average of 52.36 from two seasons.
Up against them are West Indies A, who won the series of three four-day games 2-1 when India A visited the Caribbean last summer. West Indies A were clearly the better team then, losing the first game by just two wickets after a remarkable ninth-wicket partnership between Pujara (96 not out) and Shami (27 not out), but winning the next two by 125 runs and ten wickets respectively.
Pujara was the India A captain then as well, and he will have not-too fond memories of some members of that West Indian team who also happen to be visiting this time. Kieran Powell, for example, who scored a defining 139 in the last game. Or Delorn Johnson, the big Windward Islands left-arm quick, who picked up 17 wickets in that series and averages 19.61 after 16 first-class matches.
That series was, by and large, dominated by the bowlers from both teams, and this West Indian team, on paper, is a better batting side than that one. Apart from Powell, Kraigg Brathwaite and Kirk Edwards, all Test-class batsmen who have been West Indies A regulars for a while, Narsingh Deonarine and Assad Fudadin have been added. Not to forget Jonathan Carter, the allrounder, who hit 133 to shut India A out of the second game in the recent one-day series that the Indians lost 2-1.
And with Veerasammy Permaul, the up-and-coming left-arm spinner, in the mix, West Indies A are, as Pujara put it, "quite a good team, we can't take them lightly at all".
On paper, there's not much to separate the two teams. If anything, the West Indians look a tad stronger and, on the evidence of their training session on Friday, are a happy bunch of boys raring to have a go. And while home advantage, and the Pujara factor, will stand India A in good stead, most members of the West Indies A side have been in India for a while, and won't feel too out of place.
Most importantly, there's a Test series between the Indian and West Indian senior sides coming up in just over a month's time, and fringe players from both teams will feel a good showing can help their cases. That should make it an even better contest than it might have been otherwise.
India A: Cheteshwar Pujara (capt), Jiwanjot Singh, KL Rahul, Manprit Juneja, Parveez Rasool, Bhargav Bhatt, Ishwar Pandey, Mohammad Shami, Ashok Dinda, Dhawal Kulkarni, Paras Dogra, Rohit Motwani (wk), Rajat Paliwal, Harshad Khadiwale.
West Indies A: Kirk Edwards (capt), Kieran Powell, Kraigg Brathwaite, Jonathan Carter, Sheldon Cottrell, Miguel Cummins, Narsingh Deonarine, Assad Fudadin, Jahmar Hamilton (wk), Delorn Johnson, Leon Johnson, Nikita Miller, Veerasammy Permaul, Ashley Nurse, Chadwick Walton.