x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Successful experiment in South Africa is repeated at home against West Indies.

Suresh Raina of India A plays a shot during the 3rd ODI match against South Africa. Getty Images
Suresh Raina of India A plays a shot during the 3rd ODI match against South Africa. Getty Images

Cricket matches featuring A teams usually get as much attention as the Milton Keynes Croquet Championship in England would do on the world stage.

Two teams of players on the fringes of their national sides take each other on in the hope that they will catch the eye of the selectors.

In recent months, India have upset that conventional wisdom. The A team taken to South Africa, to contest a triangular series and two four-day matches, contained players such as Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Cheteshwar Pujara, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan.

Some, such as Raina and Rohit, were one-day international veterans. Others like Dhawan, Vijay and Pujara, were cornerstones of the new-look Test side.

With a tour of South Africa planned for later in the year, though we no longer know if and when it will happen, the emphasis was very much on giving those players a taste of the conditions.

It proved a successful gambit, with India A winning the tri-series and drawing the “Tests” 1-1.

Few expected, however, that the experiment would be repeated in a home series. But it has been, with Yuvraj Singh – working his way back to something approaching best form after a cancer-induced break last year – leading the A team in the limited-overs matches against West Indies A. India lost the three-match ODI series 2-1, but Yuvraj’s clean striking, including a superb century in the first game, was one of the highlights.

Now, as the team heads to the Karnataka towns of Mysore, Shimoga and Hubli, more big names will enter the fray, ensuring that these otherwise-ignored games will attract spectators in the thousands.

Pujara will lead, and there is definitely a fringe look to the side for the first Test, with emerging names such as Manpreet Juneja, Jiwanjot Singh and Lokesh Rahul in the fray.

But for the second and third matches, the heavyweights come to town.

For Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan and Mohammad Kaif, these are not insignificant matches.

Failure against a competent West Indies A side, and that might just be it as far as their international ambitions are concerned.

For four years, Sehwag and Gambhir opened India’s batting, putting together a record second to none. But with Dhawan and Vijay now ensconced at the top of the order, the two are effectively fighting for the reserve opener’s role.

Sehwag turns 35 soon. Gambhir is just three years younger. There will not be many more chances.

For Zaheer, who also turns 35 soon, the prospects are slightly brighter. In his absence, no one has really stood up as a leader of the pace pack.

With tours of New Zealand and England (and maybe South Africa) coming up over the next year, a fit Zaheer would be a huge asset.

Having worked extensively on his fitness with Tim Exeter in France, he now needs to prove that he can rediscover the rhythm that made him one of the world’s most feared bowlers between 2006 and 2011.

Kaif last played for India in November 2006, and will be 33 in December. He has not given up, but with so many young batsmen pushing for recognition, chances are that this call-up is nothing more than a thank-you for services rendered.