An India A tour provides an opportunity not just to players aspiring for higher honours, but also to the selectors to assess how players who have come up the domestic ranks shape up against opposition of a higher quality.
As the India A team, led by Cheteshwar Pujara, embarks on a month-long tour of the Caribbean to play West Indies A, several players will be keen to make a mark and put their hand up for national selection.
Pujara leads a strong batting line-up also consisting of Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, Shikhar Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund, who have all already played for the country, but there are concerns that the bowling attack is a little light.
Ashok Dinda, Parvinder Awana, Shami Ahmed and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar will form the pace quartet, while Rahul Sharma and Akshay Darekar are the two specialist spinners. Despite the relative lack of experience of the bowling unit, Lalchand Rajput, the team coach, believes this is the best attack available at the moment.
"It would have been good to have S Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma on the tour, but they're recovering from serious injuries. Rushing them back just to test them out was not even an option," he said.
Rudra Pratap Singh, initially named in the squad, was ruled out through a knee injury, paving the way for the inclusion of Awana, who picked up 57 wickets during an impressive domestic season. Awana, the Delhi pacer, carried his good form into the IPL, emerging the highest wicket-taker for Kings XI Punjab with 17 wickets from 12 matches.
Awana, who idolises Shaun Pollock, said he had benefited immensely from his interactions with the South African legend. "I attended the Mumbai Indians camp for two years (2010 and 2011), where Shaun gave me a lot of tips. He rectified my wrist position. I was unaware of several technicalities of fast bowling; talking to Shaun made a lot of difference to my bowling," Awana told Wisden India.
Awana, 25, has impressed with his pace and accuracy, as well as his ability to hit the deck. He said he received more inputs from Joe Dawes, the Kings XI bowling coach. "He helped sort out my delivery stride and follow through. He pointed out my technical flaws through video analysis and helped me fine-tune my action," said Awana.
Awana is likely to share the new ball with Dinda, who has completely recovered from a side strain picked up during the IPL. Dinda, who had a successful season for Bengal, credited Allan Donald, the Pune Warriors India bowling coach, with making him a versatile bowler.
"He helped me become a complete bowler without modifying my action. It is important to have a lot of variations, otherwise you will be branded a one-dimensional bowler. These days, unless you are a bowler like Malinga who is a yorker specialist, you have to possess skills to bowl at any time and that is what I've worked on," said a confident Dinda.
Dinda also felt he was mature enough to handle the pressures of an important tour. "There is no pressure on me," he stressed. "I've been picked for this tour only because I'm good enough and the selectors have faith in me. I've played for India, so that experience should help me."
Dinda's new-ball partner for Bengal, rookie Shami, will be on his first India A tour. WV Raman, who has worked with the 22-year-old in his capacity as coach of the Bengal team, rates the youngster very highly.
"The most admirable quality in Shami is that he is never shy of approaching people for help. He is extremely committed and hardworking. Not many know that he once played a game for Bengal despite suffering from dengue. The West Indies tour should be a good apprenticeship for him. He is on the right track, but I feel it will take him at least one more year to fully develop as a bowler," added Raman.
Bhuvaneshwar rounds off the pace component. In his second first-class season, he dismissed Sachin Tendulkar for his first duck in domestic cricket in the Ranji Trophy final, and has since been a regular member of the Uttar Pradesh side.
Ashok Dinda will be the leader of the India A pace attack in West Indies.
Dismissing any chances of him being used as a defensive option, Rajput remarked, "We will never know unless he is tried. He has been around for four years now and going by his domestic performances, he deserves an opportunity. Numbers don't suggest he is a defensive option."
Among the spinners, Rahul is coming off a tough IPL season, while Darekar had an excellent run for Maharashtra in the Plate Division of the Ranji Trophy, picking up 32 wickets at an impressive average of 17.
Rajput expressed satisfaction at the bowling resources at his disposal. "West Indies A will be tough opponents. They have a few players who toured India with the Test team last year, so our bowling will be challenged. At the present moment, given our constraints, this is the best bowling line-up to board the plane," he signed off.