“All this makes little sense, but what makes even less sense is the unfathomable existence of the India A side. The purpose of A-sides, or Second XIs as they called them in the County Championship, is to serve as trials for international spots”
Mitchell Marsh will lead Australia A to India on their Indian tour for the two unofficial Tests. The team includes Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Matt Renshaw, and Peter Handscomb, at least two of whom are almost certain to be picked for the tour of UAE in October to play Pakistan. Greg Chappell might not be too enthusiastic about Australia’s performances in the absence of Steven Smith, David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft, but he was nevertheless part of the committee that chose the team.
The squad for the 50-over tournament, also involving South Africa A, will be led by Head (whose leadership skills for South Australia have been lauded by all) and will include Alex Carey, D’Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Jhye Richardson, and Khawaja, all of whom have played for Australia this year. In other words, Australia are using the A tour to prepare for the upcoming tour.
Closer home, Bangladesh A, on their tour of Ireland, have included Mominul Haque, Mohammad Mithun, Zakir Hasan, Sunzamul Islam, Mohammad Saifuddin, Nurul Hasan, Afif Hossain, and Taskin Ahmed, all of whom have played international cricket in 2018. Bangladesh, too, have series against Zimbabwe and West Indies lined up.
Contrast this with the India A side. There were three unofficial Tests to be played, two against West Indies A, the third against England Lions. India A picked two men who have played Tests – Karun Nair and Jayant Yadav – and none of them since March 2017. There were a few T20I cricketers, like Rishabh Pant, Mohammed Siraj, and Vijay Shankar, but that was it.
None of them was expected to play the Test series in England. Eventually, Nair and Pant made it. The latter was selected as reserve wicketkeeper only after Wriddhiman Saha was ruled out of the series with an injury. It would have been only Nair otherwise. It is obvious that Nair is the least-preferred batsman of India’s specialists: why else would he be the only one unpicked so far?
Mind you, India A is coached by Rahul Dravid – to the extent that when India A and India Under-19s made simultaneous tours to England and Sri Lanka, Dravid (coach of both sides) went with India A. It is definitely a side with quality, backed by cash and facilities – but no obvious purpose.
Prithvi Shaw had led India to the Under-19s World Cup title earlier this year. Still not 19, he has risen through the ranks of Mumbai cricket at a breakneck pace. That average of 60.78 is not buoyed by home performances alone: Shaw scored 250 on the England tour at 62.50, scoring at a strike rate of 98. Yes, he defied norms as an opener. India sent him back home after the A tour to play South Africa A (he is getting hundreds there as well).
Nair did not do a brilliant job, but he was decent (227 runs at 37.83). Towering above them all in the averages chart was Pant, whose 189 runs had come at 63.
Siraj’s 15 wickets came at under 18. Back home, he took 5/56 and 4/72 in his first two matches against South Africa A.
With 39 wickets at 17.12, Rajneesh Gurbani was the great find of the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy. He also took a hat-trick in the final. He got one match in England and took 4/117. He got one more back home against South Africa, and took 4/92.
Shaw. Pant. Siraj. Gurbani. None of them were in the reckoning when the Indian Test squad for the England Tests were announced.
Instead, India chose Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara despite their repeated failures outside the Asian subcontinent over time. The numbers have been brought up several times in recent past, more so after India’s abysmal dual surrender at Lord’s.
Still, here they are, again: Pujara averages 26.05 outside the subcontinent, while Vijay’s numbers are 32.52. On the South African tour earlier this year, Pujara scored 100 runs from 6 innings and Vijay 102; both of them had strike rates of under 30. In other words, they neither held fort nor made attempt to dominate the bowling.
Vijay even featured in the India A ‘Test’ against England Lions for some match practice – and scored 8 and 0. Ajinkya Rahane provided a glimmer of hope in the same match with 49 and 48 (he had also made a dazzling 48 at Johannesburg earlier this year), but has been unable to make it to 20 in 5 innings since then.
Shikhar Dhawan’s career in 2018 is a different story altogether. In South Africa, Dhawan was picked for the first Test, at Cape Town, and scored 16 in each innings. He outscored both Vijay and Pujara, but he was the one axed for the next Test. On a similar note, he outscored both Vijay and KL Rahul at Edgbaston but was left out at Lord’s.
All this makes little sense, but what makes even less sense is the unfathomable existence of the India A side. The purpose of A-sides, or Second XIs as they called them in the County Championship, is to serve as trials for international spots. Now, if
(a) Players keep on delivering at A-level (and/or in domestic cricket); and
(b) The big guns fail in international cricket at the same time; and
(c) The A-team cricketers do not replace the international cricketers,
The very concept of an A team is reduced to a farce.
And that is precisely what the current Indian selectors are doing; and with Pant and Nair both in England, the tour think-tank is scarcely doing better.