India A in West Indies 2012 June 1, 2012

A race to break into the India Test XI

Which of India's young Test hopefuls will make the step up with the bat during the A-team tour to the West Indies?

From Delhi to Bridgetown, it's a 22-hour journey by plane. Three days ago 15 young Indian men came together on that flight. By the time they take the return flight in early July, a few - at least two - of them will have done enough to be on many more flights, with the Indian Test team. The three first-class matches that India A will play in the West Indies will be the last any Indians play before they get into a long home season of 10 Tests. Rahul Dravid has retired, VVS Laxman not guaranteed to last the season and the Indian bowling is one window that never shuts, retirements or no retirements … what a strong whiff of opportunity would have existed on that flight.

Imagine the 15 exchanged notes on the 22-hour flight. Three of them, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara and Manoj Tiwary, would have similar stories. Rohit has the story of February 6, 2010. Laxman was not well then, the Indian selectors had not picked a back-up, and Rohit was produced out of nowhere for the Nagpur Test. Minutes before the toss, he injured himself during warm-ups. Laxman was fit by the next match, and the closest Rohit has come to a Test cap since then was the frustrating wait in Australia earlier this year, when he was not considered good enough for a side that lost eight straight Tests away from home.

Rohit has been criticised by many for being casual, but it is good to see he is not looking to rest despite having been on the road since the start of that Australian tour. He has been close to it, he wants to taste Test cricket. Pujara, his captain, has had a taste of Test cricket, and might tell his team-mates he loves what he has seen although it can get tough.

Pujara twinkle-toed to 72 on his debut against Australia, turning into a cake walk the kind of chase the India of old used to mess up. His next Test came on a green mamba in Durban, where he fought for 81 crucial minutes as Laxman batted India to a defendable target. In the next Test he got a vicious outswinger from Dale Steyn that swung late and alarmingly.

Pujara didn't do anything to play himself out of the role of first-choice Test back-up, except dive for a ball. On May 8, 2011, at the same Chinnaswamy Stadium where he debuted, during the IPL, Pujara went in for a slide at the extra-cover boundary, and his knee stuck in the outfield, injuring it badly enough to require a surgery. The recuperation period was long enough for Virat Kohli to come in and claim a place in the Test side.

Tiwary's fateful dive didn't come in a match. It was May 9, 2007, India's warm-up for their first game on the Bangladesh tour. Tiwary was coming off a Ranji season during which he broke long-standing Bengal records. He had impressed both captain and cricket manager on the tour, and was sure to debut in an ODI the next day. During fielding practice at the boundary, he dived, and didn't come up for minutes. The shoulder injury sent him home. More than four years of sporadic chances and finally an one-day century later, Tiwary has yet to become a certainty in ODIs. On that tour, in that form, given that uncertainty in India's batting line-up post the 2007 World Cup debacle, who knows what could have transpired?

Ajinkya Rahane might not have any such story of misfortune while on the brink, but he might tell them how despite 18 first-class centuries and an average of 60 over 50 games, it's one IPL century that has made him a box-office hit. He might also remember often being consigned to a corner in the nets in Australia, he and Rohit bowling to each other, not a chance in sight.

With Suresh Raina not part of this tour, it is almost certain two of these four batsmen - Tiwary being the least likely, unless this tour suggests otherwise - will be part of the squad against New Zealand in August. When Laxman retires, a third man will be picked. The four might have been kept from a Test spot for a while now, but they are all still young, and will now appreciate the struggles of the likes of Laxman before they became full-time India Test players. A Test spot is knocking at their doors, and they will all want to be the first one to open the door. Over to the West Indies, then.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on June 4, 2012, 17:10 GMT

    Nobody thinks Yuvraj - Man of the tournament of World Cup - can comeback?? I like Rahane's poise, Kohli's attitude, Rohit's talent, and Pujara's hunger for runs! They all should be playing within next 6-12 months... In the fast bowling, Yadav seems the real deal, and Aaron can be groomed to have a decent pace attack... I like Awanna (from Kings XI Punjab) too for his attitude.

  • wolf777 on June 4, 2012, 16:39 GMT

    I don't know what is the fetish with having 6 batsmen...what about an allrounder? Irfan Pathan is pretty good allrounder option. He will provide the fifth bowling option and is capable of playing long inning as number six as he has demonstrated many times.

  • karthik666 on June 4, 2012, 15:05 GMT

    Lol Kaif ?? That s funny !

  • sony_sr on June 4, 2012, 14:41 GMT

    The huge number of comments regarding badrinath's non selection forced me to go thru the opportunities he got so far:

    Tests: 3 innings, total runs 63, highest 56, average 21.00, all innings in india, scores: 56, 6, 1 ODI: 6 innings, total runs 79, highest 27*, average 15.80, 3 innings in srilanka and 4 in WI, scores: 27*, 6, 6, 17, DNB, 11, 12 T20: 1 innings, total runs 43, highest 43, average 42, only innings in WI, port of spain in batsmen friendly wicket.

    Age of the player: 32.

    In a country where you have a huge number of batting superstars and umpteen number of youngsters waiting for 1 single opportunity, can you blame the selectors for not picking him again?

  • dummy4fb on June 4, 2012, 14:39 GMT

    Rohit and Rahane in the front line,they deserve it because of they r classy and pujara too deserve it.

  • dummy4fb on June 4, 2012, 14:03 GMT

    Manoj Tiwary and Pujara surely look as good prospects for India's future. They've been performing consistently at the domestic level and surely deserve more chances.

  • smbhayi on June 4, 2012, 11:56 GMT

    Where is Mohammed Kaif? His last test score is 148 not out. He is experienced and reliable batsman. Why he is continuosly ignored? I smell some politics (lobying) in team selection.. Atleast he deserve a chance.....!!!!

  • dummy4fb on June 4, 2012, 7:25 GMT

    my team 1 sehwag 2 gambhir 3 kohli 4 sachin 5 laxman 6 dhoni 7 ipathan 8 ashwin 9 umesh 10 zaheer 11 either aaron or ojha ??? wat say guys ????????????????

  • dummy4fb on June 4, 2012, 6:20 GMT

    A perfect article & a perfect future team :- sehwag-gambhir, pujara, sachin, kohli, laxman, rohit (or may be rahane) this is going to be the next test batting line up unless someone get injured...........

  • Bruisers on June 4, 2012, 6:19 GMT

    @landl47 - That was a rather bizarre comment from someone who hasn't seen certain 4 young batsmen bat. About pace bowlers, I may have to agree with you on that, but there still are some young quicks making their way up. Wow, you don't think India has good fielders? Seriously you don't watch any Indian cricket at all.

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