x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

India shaping up for Test match with Australia

India's selectors have gone for sensible rather than clever options in their warm-up matches ahead of the Australia Test match, writes Dileep Premachandran.

Indian cricketer Ravichandran Ashwin, left, and Pragyan Ojha were outbowled by England last time out and now India is preparing for Test match with Australia. Noah Seelam / AFP
Indian cricketer Ravichandran Ashwin, left, and Pragyan Ojha were outbowled by England last time out and now India is preparing for Test match with Australia. Noah Seelam / AFP

Before England played the first Test in India last November, some of the talk was of how clever the hosts had been by denying the visitors practice against a specialist spinner.

It was only in their third and final warm-up game that England faced someone who had worn national colours – Amit Mishra. The ploy appeared to have been successful when India romped to a nine-wicket win in Ahmedabad.

But as the series wore on, England's spinners comprehensively outbowled Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, and it was the Indian batting that looked like it could have done with much more practice.

The paucity of India's spin options was exposed when both Piyush Chawla, who had not played a Test in nearly five years, and Ravindra Jadeja, selected more for his batting, played the final Test alongside Ashwin and Ojha. It made no difference as England easily secured the draw that gave them the series.

With the Australian squad set to arrive in a week's time, for four Tests against a team they thrashed 4-0 in 2011/12, India's selectors have gone for sensible rather than clever options.

A very strong side has been picked to play for Rest of India against Mumbai, the Ranji Trophy winners, in the Irani Cup, and the Board President's XI and India A sides to play Australia are also packed with those in contention for a national cap.

Virender Sehwag, dropped from the one-day squad in January, leads a Rest of India squad that includes seven others who have played a Test for India. The interesting inclusions are Harbhajan Singh and Sreesanth. Harbhajan has played just one Test - against England in Mumbai - since 2011, while Sreesanth has only recently returned to first-class cricket after more than a year out through injury.

As Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have had such a fallow run of late, there will be more than a few eyes on Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, the other two openers picked in the squad.

Zaheer Khan was dropped before the Nagpur Test and Umesh Yadav is still out injured, and with only Ishant Sharma almost certain to play the first Test against Australia, it is the quicker bowlers who have the most to gain from the Irani Cup and the warm-up games.

Ishwar Pandey, a medium-pacer from Madhya Pradesh, topped the Ranji Trophy wicket taking charts with 48 victims at 21, and is considered a real prospect. So is Shami Ahmed from Bengal, who played one-day matches against both Pakistan and England.

Parvinder Awana, picked for the Nagpur Test squad, and Stuart Binny are two others who will get a chance to impress for the Board President's XI.

Abhinav Mukund, who opened for India in two Tests on their disastrous tour of England in 2011, will lead that side.

Dhawan will captain India A in Australia's final warm-up game, and the team has several other contenders for a batting place - Manoj Tiwary, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane.

The bowler to watch for in that squad is Dhawal Kulkarni, the paceman from Mumbai who was part of India's squad to New Zealand in 2009. He started the season in ordinary fashion, but finished it with five-wicket hauls in both the Ranji Trophy semi-final and final.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who impressed in the one-day internationals against Pakistan and England, is not part of any of the squads. His lack of pace is thought to have counted against him.

Of those chosen, Shami is probably the most favoured to win a Test cap.

Australia arrive in India in some disarray, with Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey both having retired, and with India experiencing churning of their own, it should be a fascinating series.

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