Even as India are battling out in Zimbabwe currently in the five-match ODI series, a bigger challenge awaits many of the players of the Indian squad present in Zimbabwe. Following the conclusion of the series, many of the players in the squad with head to South Africa to join their India A teammates, and take part in the tri-series, which also features South Africa A and Australia A. The team, which would be led by Cheteshwar Pujara, also includes Shikhar Dhawan, Dinesh Karthik, Mohammad Shami, Parvez Rasool, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Rohit Sharma and Jaydev Unadkat.
The tri-series will be all the more essential in the sense that India would be touring South Africa later in the year. Of course that would be for a much tougher Test challenge, but the fact is that prior experience of tasting South African conditions will only help the players when they return to the place. It is no secret that this team will form the core of India’s senior squad in the years to come. In fact, a few players from this A squad are certainties for the South African safari barring injury or some other issues.
Shikhar Dhawan will undoubtedly be one of the openers in the Tests while skipper of the A squad Pujara will be the number three batsmen. He visited South Africa back in 2010, but was too raw to make a major impact. Hence, he would be keen to put up a better show this time. For many others in the squad, this will be an opportunity to stake their claim for a spot in the Test side for that all important tour of South Africa. As many as seven players of the A squad have represented India in Tests before, which means India A would be disappointed if they don’t put up a good show.
As for the players who would be keen to make a mark, this is a big opportunity for Murali Vijay. He has had a stop start international career so far, and while he opened the batting with Dhawan in Tests against the Aussies, his inconsistency remains a concern. With both Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir out of favour, Vijay would do his chances of claiming that Test opener slot no harm by putting up some big scores during this upcoming tour.
Meanwhile, Rohit Sharma continues to wait for his Test debut – six years after making his one-day debut and 100 ODIs later. In a sense, Sharma has been unlucky, but it is also a fact that he hasn’t helped his cause by performing below potential. Selectors would find it hard to ignore his calling if he fires on the A tour. Unadkat looked raw the last time he played a Test for India, so it remains to be seen how much he has matured. Judging him from the Zimbabwe series would be unfair. Tried and tested players like Karthik and Raina would also be keen to keep their name in contention. In short, there’s lots to gain if players do well on the A tour.
--By A Cricket Analyst