A fitness test for Dhawan, an audition for India hopefuls
While other batsmen in the nets around him have been going hard at the white ball in India's pre-season preparatory camp, Shikhar Dhawan has faced only throwdowns with a red ball and bouncers with wet tennis balls dug into a wet cement pitch. Before Dhawan can get into the first T20 against South Africa, there is a small matter of playing Bangladesh A in a three-day match in Bangalore. Dhawan injured his right hand in the first Test in Sri Lanka, which forced him to miss the rest of the tour. This is the same hand he had injured in the nets in Brisbane late last year. Dhawan might have been selected for India's limited-overs squad even before his fitness was assessed, but this three-day match is his fitness test.
If this match is important for Dhawan to test his fitness, at least four other players will be looking to stake their claims for international matches later in the long home season. Arguably Karun Nair, Naman Ojha, Ravindra Jadeja and Varun Aaron have more at stake than the others. Ojha was 32 years old when Wridhhiman Saha injured himself in Sri Lanka. The Madhya Pradesh wicketkeeper could have been forgiven for not being too optimistic about his international future at that point, but the injury to Saha has now given him a brief opening. Ojha's Test debut showed he had worked on his wicketkeeping, and there were brief glimpses of a batsman who can counterattack.
Jadeja, about whom it was said clearly in an earlier press conference that he had been dropped, has been handed a brief opening too. In the past Jadeja has shown that on a turning track he is well more than a handful. He has exceeded any expectations those outside the team had of him, but he has also had his worst time in international cricket since the Lord's Test last year that he helped India win. It all began with the dropped chance on the first morning in the next match, which arguably cost India the Southampton Test. A shoulder injury followed and culminated in total loss of form with the ball and confidence with the bat. An in-form Jadeja, though, can more than fill that third spinner's vacancy in Tests. He will have to show the selectors he is close to that form.
If Jadeja is looking to rediscover his accuracy, Aaron is looking to discover it. Among those who have bowled a minimum of 350 balls in Test cricket, Aaron has the worst economy rate. Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri like him, but he will have to show he is more than just a few really good and quick deliveries. That he can string together good spells. With Ishant Sharma banned and Mohammed Shami not sure he will be back by then, Aaron could stake solid claim for the Mohali Test here. Aaron plays domestic cricket for Jharkhand, but Chinnaswamy Stadium is spiritually his home ground, and unfortunately because of all the injuries the adjoining NCA almost his home.
Aaron has been with the Indian team for a while now, but he has spent more time on the bench than in the XI. Karnataka batsman Nair experienced being on that bench when he was sent in as cover for an injury-ridden side in Sri Lanka. He now knows the selectors have some faith in him. He will want increments in that faith. For the others, too, there is no better time than just before the start of an international season to start putting in reminders to the selectors. Bangladesh A are no small opposition either.
Shastri, India's team director, will have a close half an eye on this match. "I am going to have a chat with Rahul [Dravid, India A coach] at some time today to find out because he is in the best position to actually know who are the guys who can come through the ranks," Shastri said two days before the start of the A game. "With the amount of cricket he has played he will understand very quickly who is the bloke who can bridge the gap [between A level and international cricket]. It's all very well getting heaps of runs in domestic cricket, but there is also a talent, which comes with experience. Where you know that that guy might have got fewer runs but he will be ready for the top level because of certain things he does."
On a lazy Sunday morning, a day after most of the laidback city of Bangalore will have struck work, 11 of the 15 best Indian cricketers outside the limited-overs squads will look to do those "certain things" that India are after.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo