Mumbai: All-rounder Hardik Pandya will like to make a case for himself in Test match selection as he leads a talented bunch of India A players against the visiting Australians in a three-day warm-up game acting as pre-cursor to the series opener, starting 23 February.
Hardik, who has been dubbed as a limited-overs expert, has improved as a seamer and a good show against the visitors may force skipper Virat Kohli and coach Anil Kumble to keep him in their plans when they sit around for a discussion on playing during first two Test matches.
Against a quality side like Australia, the performers at the domestic level will get a chance to test themselves against the likes of Josh Hazlewood or Mitchell Starc if Steve Smith and Darren Lehmann decide to give them a few overs.
Opener Priyank Panchal of Gujarat, who has had a phenomenal season backed up by a century against Bangladesh in the previous warm-up game will also like to remain in selector's radar for the slot of reserve opener.
This is the only practice game for the visitors and they would like to make full use of it with batsmen getting some good time out there in the middle and bowlers loosening up with some overs.
The home team has some other exciting young players such as the hard-hitting ex-India U-19 World Cup batsmen Rishabh Pant and Ishan Kishan, who were part of North and East Zones in the ongoing Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Inter-Zonals at the nearby Wankhede Stadium.
Both can keep wickets as well as bat flamboyantly but it's Jharkhand's Kishan, who led the country in the Junior World Cup last year in Bangladesh, who has been chosen as the wicket keeper for the game.
Then there are others like Mumbai's highly rated batsman Shreyas Iyer and his teammate Akhil Herwadkar, who is expected to open the innings with the in-form Panchal.
Iyer had scored over 1,300 runs at one-down while guiding Mumbai to their 41st Ranji title last season but has had a dip in form this season, while Panchal, with an aggregate of 1,300-plus runs, led Gujarat to their maiden national crown this season.
In the middle-order there's Maharashtra's Ankit Bawne, an experienced campaigner although his is just 24, along with Tamil Nadu’s Baba Indrajit who may not get a chance to make the eleven as the match is to be held strictly as a first-class game, according to visiting team’s coach Darren Lehmann.
"Proper first-class game," was the way Lehmann put it when asked at the media conference in Mumbai two days ago.
That eliminates the prospect of testing all the players at some stage of the game or the other as has been the practice in recent times.
The game, to be played at a venue where there's always good bounce for the bowlers, will be eagerly looked forward to by Australia as this is the only match where they will confront spin bowling in match conditions before the Pune Test series opener.
Apart from Kuldeep, the home team has the wily left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem from Jharkhand who is capable of testing and teasing the rival batsmen along with Karnataka’s Krishnappa Gowtham, who bowls off-spin.
These three spinners, especially the 27-year-old Nadeem who has over 300 first-class wickets to his credit, will give Australia a real taste of what lies ahead in the Test rubber in the form of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who are expected to play a key role.
In medium pace bowling, the home side will have two other young bowlers, Haryana-born Navdeep Saini of Delhi and Hyderabad's Mohammed Siraj, who worked up good pace for Rest of India (ROI) against Gujarat in the Irani Cup tie at this venue, to choose from to bowl alongside Bengal's experienced Ashok Dinda and Baroda man Pandya himself.
As far as the visitors are concerned, they have to decide whether to field the Test eleven or give some more rest to the fast men.
"(We are) looking forward to the challenge of going out and getting our side as best prepared for the Test match. Whether we play the Test XI or not, we'll take a call," said Lehmann.
"We will look at how the fast bowlers have caught up from Dubai (where the team had trained for a few days before reaching here) and we will work out what we do there. But otherwise I'm pretty happy with where everyone's at," he further said in the run-up to the match.
Australia: Steve Smith (c), David Warner, Ashton Agar, Jackson Bird, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Stephen O'Keefe, Matthew Renshaw, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade (wk)
India A: Hardik Pandya (c), Akhil Herwadkar, Priyank Kirit Panchal, Shreyas Iyer, Ankit Bawne, Rishabh Pant, Ishan Kishan (wk), Shahbaz Nadeem, Krishnappa Gowtham, Kuldeep Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Ashok Dinda, Mohammed Siraj, Rahul Singh, Baba Indrajith.
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Updated Date: Feb 16, 2017 20:37:24 IST