India A take charge despite Ganguly's efforts

India A 302 and 47 for 1 (Jadhav 27*) lead India Seniors 213 (Ganguly 65, Joginder 3-42, Bhandari 3-56) by 136 runs

The unheralded Joginder Sharma, playing as a substitute for Ashish Nehra, who went over on his left ankle again yesterday evening, embarrassed the cream of India's batting talent as India A took charge of the warm-up game against India Seniors. With Amit Bhandari, who removed both the openers, and Murali Kartik providing sterling support, the Seniors were bowled out for just 213 in reply to India A's 302. By stumps, the lead had been extended to 136, with Maharashtra's Dheeraj Yadav playing some handsome strokes in front of the wicket against Irfan Pathan.

Only Sourav Ganguly, with an assured 65, managed a decent stint in the middle, but any satisfaction he derived from that would have been offset by the failures of Aakash Chopra, Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag, for whom run-making has been something of a mystery of late.

Sehwag was dropped by Gautam Gambhir at second slip before he had scored, but Bhandari's disappointment was quickly assuaged by a wretched shot to Mohammad Kaif at cover (10 for 1). His partner of last season, Chopra, never got going either, struggling against the accurate line of Shib Sankar Paul and the bustling endeavour of Bhandari.

And it was Bhandari who got him, with a delivery on off stump that Chopra (18) edged through to Mahendra Dhoni behind the stumps. That brought in Rahul Dravid, who made his intentions clear by creaming Bhandari for three fours in an over. Mindful of his options, Dinesh Mongia called on Sharma, the Haryana medium-pacer who has also represented lowly Tripura while picking up an impressive 60 first-class wickets from 15 games.

Bowling with a mixed action at a lively pace, Joginder concentrated on bowling just on or outside off stump. The rewards were ample. First, Dravid, untroubled during his 22, cut one uppishly to Jadhav at point (60 for 3), and then VVS Laxman wafted at one that was well away from the body (68 for 4).

The innings needed some rescuing, but only Ganguly could oblige. As has often been the case, he reserved the most contemptuous treatment for the slow left-armer, twice stepping out and lofting Kartik over the infield. But around him, it was a shambles. Yuvraj, who had earlier been hit on the shoulder by Sharma, was surprised by one that reared up at him and took the edge through to Dhoni (99 for 5), while Parthiv Patel's attempt to hook Paul out of sight only found his wicketkeeping rival.

Pathan then gifted Kartik a first wicket, driving one high into the cover region, and Zaheer played all around a straight one from Bhandari. With partners deserting him faster than lemmings near a cliff, Ganguly had no option but to chance his arm, and an ambitious sweep against Kartik flew off the top edge to Sridharan Sriram at short fine leg (155 for 9).

Anil Kumble's tenacity, and Harbhajan Singh's eclectic range of strokes - including one superb straight six off Kartik - averted abject humiliation, but it was a woeful batting display from a line-up that has to face the might of McGrath, Gillespie and Warne in exactly a week's time.

Things didn't go much better with the ball either. The India A innings had been wrapped up in quick time in the morning, with Harbhajan running out Bhandari, and Sriram, the best batsman on view, slashing Kumble to Yuvraj at deep backward point. But at the second time of asking, Pathan was well below par, and only Zaheer, who had Gambhir caught by Ganguly at second slip, strode in with real menace.

To be fair to the players though, everyone was distracted by news trickling through from Kolkata and Delhi, where the BCCI elections and the telecast-rights imbroglio were no nearer resolution. Once he was out, Ganguly spent a fair bit of time trying to appraise the situation by talking to journalists and using his phone. Next to him was Hemang Badani, who but for an injury would surely have been a contender for a Test slot.

The only folk who looked truly relaxed were the better halves of Laxman and Dravid, spotted having a bite to eat in the shade of the clubhouse. With neither of their partners having troubled the scorers unduly, there was little to get worked up about.

Later in the day, that was certainly the case with Dhoni, Paul, Sriram and Ambati Rayudu, who shared a few snacks on the pavilion balcony with the insouciance of young men who know that their time might have come sooner than they imagined. Don't write off the Seniors just yet, but a few reputations are on the line heading into the final two days of a practice match that could be so much more.

Dileep Premachandran is an assistant editor with Wisden Cricinfo.