Disappointed, but not panicking - India A coach
Lalchand Rajput, the coach of the touring India A side in the West Indies, is disappointed the fancied batting line-up didn't click as a unit, but is not alarmed about the future of India's middle order after a side full of Test aspirants failed to reach 300 in any of the innings of the three first-class matches against West Indies A. The sheer amount of international experience in India A's middle order - Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Manoj Tiwary - made them favourites going into the series, but none of them scored a century, and India A lost the series even after having won the first match.
"It's fair to say we didn't think the series would go this way," Rajput said from Port-of-Spain where the limited-overs leg of the tour will commence. "They bowled really well too. Delorn Johnson took 17 wickets in the series, and Jason Holder was good as well. Ours was a strong batting line-up that never clicked as a unit. The conditions were difficult, but we should have done better."
India A's first two wickets invariably yielded little, and the middle order always found itself under pressure and exposed to the new ball. In the six innings, the first two wickets added respectively 0 and 1, 4 and 8, 1 and 11, 14 and 14, 16 and 16, and 22 and 1. "We were a very strong batting unit," Rajput said. "But we never clicked together. In six innings we never had an opening stand. We were always 20 for 3 or 30 for 3. If you want a big score, the top three have to fire."
Those who followed gave a relatively better account of themselves: Pujara crossed fifty thrice, Wriddhiman Saha twice, and Rohit and Tiwary once each. One of Pujara's fifties was a special effort of 96 in the chase of 186 in the first match, in Barbados, after the visitors had been reduced to 77 for 6 and 115 for 8. India A would have hoped to carry some momentum and psychological edge into the next match, but losing the toss proved crucial on a pitch that was turning square on the fourth morning. Put in on a damp morning in the third match, the India A top order came up short once again, and even Pujara, who had scored three half-centuries in four innings until then, was run out before he could make a difference.
The first-class matches of this tour were particularly important for the young Indian batsmen after Rahul Dravid's retirement earlier this year. The selectors won't get to watch another first-class match before they pick the team for the first of the 10 Tests this home season. Rajput said there was no need to panic, and that this tour was an important experience for the youngsters.
"It's actually good that we are exposing them in conditions abroad before they get into the Test side," Rajput said. "It will help them. They'll know what to expect when they go abroad. It's a good idea for them to get exposure at an early stage in their career.
"They should know relatively early that playing abroad is different. They now know what they need to work on. Life is difficult when you go and play abroad. You have to work hard. Still they are sound players. Don't write them off based on this tour."
Pujara's temperament, Saha's keeping, Rohit's start, and the surprise package, Bengal quick Shami Ahmed, were the positives of the series, Rajput said. "Pujara's in Bridgetown was one of the best innings I have ever seen," Rajput said. "When you lose eight wickets, you put together that partnership to win the Test, it was tremendous. He showed a lot of character and temperament. Top performance."
The man who stood alongside Pujara during that match-winning effort was Ahmed, who impressed Rajput a lot. "He is strong, bowls at a sharp pace, and throughout the day," Rajput said. "Even in the third spell of the day, he bowls around 140kmph. Even when batting he doesn't give up. You have to get him out. He is one bowler to watch out for."
Saha showed similar resilience, Rajput said, scoring two fifties in tough batting conditions. His keeping on tough pitches was impressive too. Rohit got 94 in the first innings of the tour, but never kicked on after that. It summed up India A's effort: "They got starts, but couldn't convert them. Had they converted them, the story would have been different."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo