x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Close call for Raina and Yuvraj in Indian Test squad

Much has been said about the lack of a specialist slow bowler in the India A squad that the last spot in India's batting line-up has been mostly overlooked.

Yuvraj Singh, right, and Suresh Raina are staking their claim for the No 6 spot in the batting order.
Yuvraj Singh, right, and Suresh Raina are staking their claim for the No 6 spot in the batting order.

England start their tour of India on Tuesday with a warm-up game against India A at the Brabourne Stadium.

So much has been said, tweeted and written about the lack of a specialist slow bowler in the India A squad that it has almost been overlooked how the game will act as an audition for the last spot in India's batting line-up.

Suresh Raina batted at No 6 in India's last Test series, against New Zealand in August and September.

He made one aggressive half-century, but the manner of his dismissals, especially on the final day in Bangalore when India were chasing a tricky target, caused even more questions to be asked about his suitability for the Test side.

Raina will lead India A in the tour game, and the fact that England provide the opposition will cast many minds back to the summer of 2011, when his travails summed up a miserable 4-0 drubbing for India.

Having started the tour with a sprightly and defiant 78 in the loss at Lord's, Raina's technique and confidence unravelled thereafter.

With his response to the short ball having been flagged much earlier, England's pace bowlers pushed him well back into the crease with well-directed bouncers.

By the end of the tour, Raina was so wary and his footwork so hesitant that he was dismissed by the full deliveries as well. And with so much energy spent on keeping the pace bowlers out, he was also undone by the off-spin of Graeme Swann.

In 15 one-day international innings since 2006, Raina has averaged 40, with six half-centuries, against England on home soil.

But given how he has not built on the century he scored on his Test debut (2010), it will be interesting to see if the selectors take a chance on him against a side that appeared to have his measure less than 18 months ago.

The other contender is Yuvraj Singh, on the comeback trail after overcoming a rare form of germ-cell cancer.

Yuvraj played one Test, the second, in England in 2011, scoring 62 at Trent Bridge in Nottingham before a hand injury put him out of the rest of the tour.

He played two more Tests, against the West Indies last November, before realising that the ailments that had troubled him for months were far more serious than was initially thought.

Yuvraj did not sparkle with the bat at the World Twenty20, but his left-arm spin was again central to India winning four of their five games.

No one is really sure if he is fit enough to play a high-intensity five-day game, but he suggested that was the case with a fluent double century for North Zone in the recently concluded Duleep Trophy.

If Yuvraj does outperform Raina in the tour match, it will leave the new panel of selectors with quite a conundrum.

Forget the sentimental reasons for picking Yuvraj. There are enough sound cricketing ones.

On England's last tour of India, his unbeaten 85 contributed hugely to India's record-breaking run chase in Chennai. Having added 163 with Sachin Tendulkar in that game, he then smashed 86 off 93 balls in the second Test at Mohali.

Since his debut nine years ago, Yuvraj has played just 37 Tests.

Sourav Ganguly blocked his path initially, but with only Tendulkar now remaining of the golden generation, he will no have a better chance to make a place his own.

Ajinkya Rahane, Manoj Tiwary and Ambati Rayudu are all part of the India A squad, with the first two on the fringes of national selection.

But it will be Raina and Yuvraj that fight it out, with most people expecting the opening should go to the man who stared cancer down.

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