By Boria Majumdar
As Euro 2012 takes over the Indian national imagination, the Indian A team is in the West Indies playing what will eventually turn out to be a vital series for the Indian Test team going forward. The A team is the best supply line for cricketers to the senior side and the senior national selectors will be closely monitoring the teams’ performance in the Caribbean.
If the first test match is anything to go by, the two relatively senior pros in Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara, who have now been around for 4-5 years proved that they are two best men to take over from the likes of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. And though Ajinkya Rahane missed out, he is another player the selectors will be taking a close look at to fill up team India’s vacant number three spot. Rahane bats at three in the Ranji trophy and has a solid technique to combat the early hostility from opposition fast bowlers. And in the first innings at Barbados he was unfortunately run out, a mode of dismissal that cannot always be counted as a batting failure.
Rohit Gurunath Sharma, on the other hand, had burst on the scene in the Commonwealth Bank Series in Australia in February-March 2008. His partnership with Sachin Tendulkar in the first final at Sydney was instrumental in winning India the match and eventually the tournament. Rohit, it seemed, had evolved as a player after a superb debut in the inaugural T-20 world cup in South Africa in 2007. He does look the quintessential Test cricketer. Rohit always has that extra second to play a ball, looks elegant and graceful and isn’t afraid to deal with short pitched bowling. He hooks and pulls well and is surely one to shoulder the responsibility of India’s middle order batting in the years to come. Having lost focus in the interim, Rohit lost some valuable time between 2009-2012. In and out of the team and failing to do justice to his talent, it has been a below par career so far much like that of Yuvraj Singh in Test match cricket. And with India due to play 10 Tests in the period from August 2012 to March 2013, it is surely Rohit’s best opportunity to cement a place in the Indian test team.
Cheteshwar’s is a similar story. His 72 against Australia at home in October 2010 had turned many a head and he was tipped to be the perfect fit at the number six position. Subsequent injuries and a poor South Africa series in December 2011 meant Pujara was soon out of reckoning and almost forgotten. His technique was missed in England 2011 and Australia 2012 and with Suresh Raina unable to deal with the fast short stuff, it is high time he makes a comeback to shore up the Indian middle order.
With VVS Laxman unlikely to continue for too long, it will be a new look Indian middle order that takes guard to Anderson and company at home in November 2012 in what is already being labelled as the revenge series. India will go into the series better prepared with Sehwag and Gambhir back in form at the top of the order and Sachin still holding fort at the number four position. Irrespective of the presence of these three experienced veterans, however, much will depend on how Virat, Rohit and Cheteshwar tackle the England pace bowlers. Unlike Rohit and Pujara, Virat has already established himself at the number six position and if his Adelaide hundred in January 2012 is anything to go by, he appears to have cut his teeth in Test cricket. As the vice-captain of the Indian ODI side, he also has the added responsibility of being a young senior pro in the team.
Each of them have a reasonable technique and are very good fielders adding to their utility as Test match players. Now it is time to fine tune their temperament and adapt to the most difficult format of cricket, the test match. Players’ are forever remembered in the echelons of the game for their performances in the Test arena and the sooner we Indians come to terms with this realization the better it is for us. However much we have the IPL and the financial muscle to rule cricket, Indian cricket can only be in good health if we are a good Test team. More reason to keep focus on the A teams tour of the Caribbean and the planned tour of New Zealand in September.