Powell groomed for leadership
The last time West Indies A toured India for a full series was back in 1998-99. It was a curious little period for West Indies cricket. While Brian Lara's team was getting hammered in South Africa, losing all five Tests in possibly their most shambolic series in the 90s, Ian Bishop's men in India were a study in contrast. West Indies A trounced India A in both unofficial Tests and took the one-day series 2-1. It was as if the wrong side had landed on South Africa's shores.
The A side had several fringe players who went on to become established names in the years to come, including Ramnaresh Sarwan and Wavell Hinds and captained by the experienced Bishop, who had played his last match for West Indies earlier that year.
Kieran Powell, who will lead the current West Indies A side in the limited-overs games in Bangalore starting on Sunday, doesn't have that level of experience. However, the 23-year-old is being earmarked for West Indies leadership and the upcoming tour will be a test for him at least in the one-dayers and solitary T20, before handing over to Kirk Edwards for the three unofficial Tests. The split-captaincy method is already being applied for the senior team, with Darren Sammy and Dwayne Bravo in charge of the Tests and ODIs respectively, and the experiment has permeated to the A level as well.
"Powell is extremely young and in another five years from now he could be the next senior team captain so we will have to start grooming him from now," West Indies A coach Junior Bennett said.
For Powell, the tour is important not just from the leadership perspective but also for his return to the senior side. The opening batsman, who has played 15 Tests and 19 ODIs, hasn't played since the home series against Zimbabwe due to injury and had to miss the Champions Trophy, the tri-series at home as well as the matches against Pakistan. He returned to action during the Caribbean Premier League, playing seven games for the Antigua Hawksbills. Powell will be looking to retain his spot as an opener in Tests and regain his position in West Indies' one-day side, that currently features Johnson Charles at the top.
"I'm looking to get match fit," Powell said. "I'm looking forward to spending time in the middle, as well as mixing with this bunch of guys."
The 1998-99 side was the first sighting - at least to Indian audiences - of Chris Gayle, but Bennett didn't single out any players from the current line-up to watch out for. The side has national players looking to make a comeback, including Edwards, Narsingh Deonarine, Nikita Miller and Andre Russell.
Russell's CPL heroics was a timely reminder to the selectors who had kept him out during the limited-overs matches at home following the Champions Trophy, and the current tour assumes significance not just for him but the entire bunch before the squads are picked for the senior team's short tour of India starting November.
The India A selections across the formats handed lifelines to discarded seniors including Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh. While Yuvraj wasn't picked for the Tests, he is the only one among the four to feature in the limited-overs games. Dropped after the home series against England earlier this year, Yuvraj fell out of the reckoning owing to fitness issues. The Indian one-day squad didn't miss him in England and the West Indies, where they lifted two trophies, prompting questions over whether there was a way back for him.
Brive La Gaillarde, a town in France, was the unlilkely venue Yuvraj and Zaheer chose for their six-week rehabilitation program. Now back for his first competitive game since the IPL, the attention centered around Yuvraj. He spent considerable time practicing on the eve of the game in Bangalore, skipping the pre-match presser in the process. His coach, Lalchand Rajput, spoke of the progress Yuvraj had made.
"In between he had put on a bit of weight, but he has reduced a lot now," Rajput said. "The hunger to come back is there. I'm sure these games will give an indication of whether he will be back in the Indian team or not. He is more focused, you can see it in his attitude."
Yuvraj will be captaining a side high on confidence after sweeping the three ODIs against New Zealand A at Vizag on Thursday, thanks largely to their batting. The selectors have spread the net wide with their recent A team selections, bringing in Yusuf Pathan, Jaydev Unadkat and Naman Ojha, who didn't figure against New Zealand A.
Two bowlers on the comeback trail, Praveen Kumar and Irfan Pathan, were ruled out of the series on Saturday due to injuries and were replaced by Vinay Kumar and Siddarth Kaul. The question is whether the relatively inexperienced attack can stand up to the test.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo