The India A tour of the Caribbean was expected to throw up options for the national selectors from a batting perspective, especially with the search for a replacement for Rahul Dravid a priority area. But after a 1-2 series loss to West Indies A in the first-class leg of the tour, only Cheteshwar Pujara has put his hand up.
The quartet of Ajinkya Rahane, Pujara, Rohit Sharma and Manoj Tiwary must have hoped to stake claims during the three four-day fixtures against West Indies A. Pujara apart, however, no one else came even close to making a case for himself. Question marks, therefore, have arisen over their temperament and the technique required to counter challenging conditions overseas.
The selectors picked the strongest possible batting unit for the tour outside of the established Test batsmen. Pujara, the captain who finished with 252 runs from six innings, did impress, but none of the others could come to grips with the conditions. Pujara saw the team through in a tense chase with an unbeaten 96 at Barbados in the opening game, the only bright spot in an otherwise forgettable outing. Pujara backed up that effort with two more fifties to finish the tour well ahead of the rest on the table of averages (see box).
|How The Contenders Fared|
|Ajinkya Rahane||62 runs from 6 innings (10.33)|
|Rohit Sharma||145 runs from 6 innings (24.16)|
|Cheteshwar Pujara||252 runs from 6 innings (50.40)|
|Manoj Tiwary||182 runs from 6 innings (30.33)|
Tiwary hasn't always been considered a Test option, but having been a regular part of the One-Day International squad for over a year, it was up to him to shoulder middle-order responsibility. He did show glimpses of form, but not enough consistency to step into the massive gap left by Dravid's retirement.
Rohit started the tour with a sparkling 94, but his next five innings yielded only 51 runs. Rohit's lack of form is particularly mystifying, considering he was Man of the Series during the ODI series in the Caribbean in June last year. He should have been familiar with the conditions, though this time around, there was more assistance for the bowlers. Rohit was given a good working over by Delorn Johnson, Kevin McClean and the other pacemen.
Rahane, a slight favourite originally in the race for a Test slot, failed to replicate his IPL form that served Rajasthan Royals so well. He has most certainly pushed himself down the pecking order after six ordinary outings. Not once during the series did he appear in control. Also, after being picked as a reserve opener in Australia, he batted at No. 3 for the first four innings, before opening in the last match. What exactly is the role expected of him?
Abhinav Mukund and Shikhar Dhawan, the opening pair for the first two matches, did precious little. While Mukund was coming into the tour after recovering from a knee injury, Dhawan was high on confidence following a good showing for Deccan Chargers in the IPL, where he amassed 569 runs. Dhawan's vulnerability against the moving ball was exposed as he barely lasted beyond the initial burst from the new-ball bowlers.
Mukund, who made his Test debut in the West Indies last year, had an opportunity to present his case as a back-up to Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. However, he had a torrid time, scoring just 46 runs in six innings in a clear indication of the magnitude of work he must put in if he dreams of playing Test cricket again.
The tour isn't over yet, and all is not lost. Conditions were loaded in favour of the bowlers, as evidenced by the struggles of the West Indies A batsmen too. The limited-overs matches that lie ahead will give the India hopefuls another opportunity to get amongst the runs, though it is debatable if even good performances there will convince the men who matter that they are ready for Test cricket.