There's a blackboard outside the National Cricket Academy's offices in Bangalore that every cricketer has to walk past on his way to the B ground, where most practice sessions are held. Some kind soul is entrusted with the task of writing a thought of the day on this board. On Wednesday (September 18), the academy was buzzing with activity and the board read: Don't waste your life trying to impress other people.
For the Under-16 academy boys who were practicing at one end of the ground, this was sound advice. For the India Under-19 team, led by Vijay Zol, who had their last training session before departing for Visakhapatnam where they will feature in a quadrangular tournament, the words of wisdom have probably come too late. But, for the centre of all attention at the NCA, the India A and West Indies A teams, the thought of the day is possibly the exact opposite of what was on the mind.
After all, while the three-match one-day series is tied at 1-1, with Thursday's game being the decider, the whole point of the exercise for the cricketers in the A teams was to catch the eye. While it is never fun to lose, and Yuvraj Singh, who is leading India A, would love to end on a winning note, the bigger purpose the series serves is to give individuals a chance to stake their claims.
West Indies A will use the tour to bank knowledge of the conditions, and some of these cricketers will certainly return to Indian shores in the years to come representing their senior team. In that sense, there is more to be gained for the West Indians than mere personal performance.
For India A, though, this is all about individual glory. Yuvraj, who is leaner and fitter than he has been in many years, is past the stage where he needs to prove a point to anyone, but his blistering century in the first game certainly showed what was possible when he was at his best. While the West Indies A bowlers, particularly the slow men, bore the brunt of Yuvraj's scything attack, there were others left scurrying for cover. Officials of the Karnataka State Cricket Association were forced to run from pillar to post as the crowd thronged to the Chinnaswamy Stadium on Tuesday. Appetite whetted by Yuvraj's innings in the first game, nearly 10,000 came to the ground on Tuesday, and virtually the entire top tier of the stands was packed. The chance to watch Yuvraj, for free, doesn't come often, and certainly there was no shortage of takers.
If Yuvraj was on a mission to try and force his way back into the Indian team, there were a couple of others who were itching for the opportunity to show what they were capable of. Robin Uthappa, at 27, finds himself at the crossroads for the umpteenth time in his career. With 38 One-Day Internationals, the most recent of which was a good five years ago, under his belt, Uthappa has tasted life at the highest levels of cricket. But, after enduring years in and out of the team, this season is a crucial one for a player who has reinvented his batting with the help of Pravin Amre, hired to work in the capacity of a personal coach. Uthappa began the season well, with runs under his belt against New Zealand A at Visakhapatnam, but a final chance at his home ground, in a televised match, is one he can ill afford to fail in.
Another player who has put plenty of store in these matches is Unmukt Chand, whose dizzying rise to fame and glory as a teenager was only matched by his swift return to terra firma. After holding the Under-19 World Cup trophy aloft, Chand has managed only two centuries from 23 first-class matches, and struggled for consistency. Capable of some exquisite attacking strokes, Chand is still finding his way in the game as a batsman, and both the company in the dressing-room and the opposition on the pitch are just the sort a young player needs.
The all-rounder in the mix, Yusuf Pathan, is a known quantity. Indian fans are well aware of the elder Pathan's ability to strike the ball, but a steady place in the ODI team is not something Yusuf has been able to nail down. With Ravindra Jadeja firmly in harness in that role, every opportunity to remind the selectors of what they are making do without will be viewed as a godsend by Yusuf.
A smattering of rain in Bangalore has meant that the players have had to keep one eye on the skies throughout this short limited-overs series. If the rains stay away on Thursday, there should be no shortage of runs as some seriously motivated Indian batsmen fight to take the crease.
India A: Yuvraj Singh (capt), Unmukt Chand, Robin Uthappa, B. Aparajith, Kedar Jadhav, Naman Ojha (wk), Yusuf Pathan, Vinay Kumar, Jaydev Unadkat, Siddharth Kaul, Sumit Narwal, Shahbaz Nadeem, Mandeep Singh, Rahul Sharma.
West Indies A: Kieran Powell (capt), Veerasammy Permaul, Ronsford Beaton, Nkrumah Bonner, Jonathan Carter, Sheldon Cottrell, Miguel Cummins, Narsingh Deonarine, Kirk Edwards, Andre Fletcher, Leon Johnson, Nikita Miller, Ashley Nurse, Andre Russell, Devon Thomas (wk).