As the senior team prepares for Virat Kohli's first full series as India's Test captain, Rahul Dravid's young(ish) stewards begin their tri-series campaign against Australia A and South Africa A at Chepauk on Friday. The team, to be captained by Unmukt Chand, is a perfect platform for those players on the fringe of the national team to play themselves into the selector's notebooks.
Firstpost takes a closer look at a group of players for whom the stakes are potentially the highest.
With Wriddhiman Saha the clear heir to Mahendra Singh Dhoni's Test throne, there is still a lack of clarity over who the selectors see as his eventual replacement in the shorter formats. Saha, a handy limited-overs batsman who has a IPL century to his credit, was not considered for the Zimbabwe tour. Rather surprisingly, the selectors chose Robin Uthappa to don the big gloves.
Uthappa failed to make the most of the opportunity with the bat, especially in the ODIs, though less-so in the T20s and his keeping left a lot to be desired. Time and again, his technique was found wanting, be it catching thick-edges when standing up or gathering balls on the bounce standing back. He has since admitted that the anxiety to prove himself got to him a little bit.
While Uthappa gets ready for Karnataka Premier League action, Sanju Samson gets a competitive India A series under the stewardship of his long-time mentor Rahul Dravid. Samson has a had a poor domestic season and failed to shine in the IPL as well, but he would not get a better chance in the near future to stake his claim as the second choice keeper in the shorter formats. Samson is still only 20 and this is by no means a break-or-break series for him but a couple of good performances could vault him to the head of the queue of keepers that has long stood behind Dhoni.
Dhawal Kulkarni and Sandeep Sharma
Dhoni was blunt in his assessment of India's pace attack after a dismal showing in Bangladesh. “We need to make a decision if we want quick bowlers or if we want good bowlers even if they are not quick. We have been backing too many quick bowlers who haven’t been bowling well.”
And lo and behold, none of India's fastest bowlers were selected for the limited-overs tour of Zimbabwe. Military medium, it seemed, was Dhoni's preferred new-ball bowling choice and the selectors obliged.
Two such medium-pacers - Sandeep Sharma and Dhawal Kulkarni - are going to lead India A's attack against Australia A and South Africa A. Both of them had forgettable outings in more favourable conditions in Zimbabwe, with Sandeep especially having a stinker of a debut series, going for 73 runs in the 7 overs he bowled in the two T20 internationals he played.
Sandeep, therefore, needs a solid performance to keep himself from falling out favour. As for Kulkarni, by now we know what he offers as a bowler (which isn't much) but Dhoni's recent statements appear to have made more space for bowlers like him. If he can shine in this series, it will strengthen his claim for a spot in the ODI squad that will take on the national South Africa side in October.
Axar Patel, Pervez Rasool, and Karn Sharma
Bishen Singh Bedi has said it. Sunil Gavaskar has said it. India's spin resources are running dangerously low. That Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra have been given a second wind shows the younger spin brigade hasn't performed at the level required for international cricket. Even a place in the unofficial Tests against Australia A that preceded this series was not forthcoming for this trio.
But Axar, Rasool and Sharma are India's next best options. Axar's bowling is tailor-made for the shorter formats and he enjoyed a successful tour of Zimbabwe, taking five wickets in the ODI series at 24.50 and four in the T20 series at an average of 10. However, he has struggled against higher-quality opposition and his batting has been found wanting.
Rasool and Karn, on the other hand, are more-conventional spinners. Karn was given his Test debut in Australia last year but was inconsistent with his lines and lengths and was dropped after one Test. Rasool, who was much talked about a couple of years ago, has also seen his form dip in more recent times.
All three of them need convincing performances in this tri-series to keep their names into the discussion of who's going to partner, or push, R Ashwin in the long-term.
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Last week, Amir had also talked about a desperate need for a change in the environment of the Pakistan dressing room.
Better players and better Indian teams have earlier graced the field of play in cricket but never braver than the Brisbane Test lot and Ravi Shatri deserves a lot of credit for it.
Pant is often compared with the two-time World Cup-winning former captain and wicketkeeper-batsman, who retired last year after a glorious international career.