Mumbai: It's not always that a visiting team's warm-up match assumes as much importance as the three-day game between England and India A, starting at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai on Tuesday (October 30). It will be the first of three opportunities for the Englishmen to acclimatise to conditions - even if they are denied much practice against quality spin - but equally importantly, it will give the Indian selectors some indications about the options for the spots in the Indian Test team that need filling.
The England team arrived in Mumbai on Monday afternoon after a three-day camp in Dubai. Keeping in mind the fact that the India A team will not throw much by way of top-class spin in their direction, the team had called up four county spinners - James Tredwell, Scott Borthwick, Simon Kerrigan and Azeem Rafiq - to go with Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar and Samit Patel, the Test team members, in Dubai.
Their first taste of Indian conditions, however, will only be on the morning of the match, with no practice sessions lined up on the eve of the encounter.
From the Indian point of view, the selectors, who will arrive at the Brabourne Stadium on match day, will keep a very close eye on how some individuals do.
M Vijay and Abhinav Mukund are the two men expected to open the innings with Ajinkya Rahane batting at No. 3. With question marks being raised about the status of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir in the team, the performance of the three youngsters will be crucial. Similarly, with Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli likely to fill in No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 slots in the batting order, it will probably come down to a straight face-off between Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina for the No. 6 position.
"The selectors will be here and we will finalise the playing XI after consulting them," said Lalchand Rajput, coach of the India A team. "Everyone knows which spots are free in the Indian team and everyone is keen to play and make a mark. We will find out what the selectors have in mind and then take a call."
Indications are that after Vijay, Mukund and Rahane, Yuvraj, Raina and Manoj Tiwary will make up the top six, followed by Wriddhiman Saha, the wicketkeeper-batsman, and then Irfan Pathan, R Vinay Kumar, Ashok Dinda and Parvinder Awana, the four medium-pacers.
"It's not as if we don't have spinners. Yuvraj, Manoj and I have all bowled at the international level and will perform the spin duties," said Raina, the captain of the India A team. "The track looks like it will be bouncy, so we want to play all the fast bowlers."
It's not only the Indian team's batting order that has holes that to be plugged. R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha are expected to lead the spin attack, but there are no solid, long-term ideas right now for the position of the third seamer behind Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav. With a long season coming up, the position of a back-up medium-pacer is vacant too. Pathan and Dinda, with their recent appearances in international limited-overs cricket, look to be leading the race, but their performances, along with those of the others, will also be monitored closely.
Importantly, Raina confirmed, every single member of the squad of 14 will leave for the Ranji Trophy openers for their respective states immediately after the match is over on November 1. The Ranji Trophy begins on November 2, and that will probably serve as the second round of ‘trials' for those who are in the running for places in the Indian team.