How to deal with transition

Mayank Agarwal... India’s biggest gain from the series.-B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

It was a chance well-utilised by some players, in the recently concluded triangular ODI series, involving the ‘A’ teams of India, Australia and South Africa, held in Chennai, writes S. Prasanna Venkatesan.

“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome,” said Russian-born American author of science fiction, Isaac Asimov, reflecting on life.

However, its essence holds true for the cricketing upheaval that is emerging from the peripheral to step into the mainstream. As a player makes his way up the ladder, all keen and purposeful, with built-up character and technical refinement in tow, the simulation that an ‘A’ tour is, puts him the closest to rap at the doors of prominence. It is, after all, another “chance in the space between chaos and shape”, to borrow a line from British novelist Jeanette Winterson.

And, it was a chance well-utilised by some, in the recently concluded triangular ODI series, involving the ‘A’ teams of India, Australia and South Africa, held in Chennai. While Australia was far superior before falling at the final hurdle, South Africa’s showing made for a stark contrast. It did put up one impressive performance though, against India, determinedly bowing out with exalted spirits.

The team, hampered initially by inept adaptability, was rendered prostrate when most of its squad was hospitalised for ‘food poisoning’, at a time when the players appeared to be getting into the groove with the hard-hitting ground reality of the alien conditions gradually wearing off. Meanwhile, India grew in confidence and eventually managed to beat the Aussies, having had a good measure of them, especially after getting schooled by them in their own backyard in a couple of games before the summit clash. Regardless, the biggest gain is the impression created by some of the players that were indicative of their readiness to take the plunge. In other words, they signed off, their chances improved, for senior team selection. Here’s a look at how they pushed their case.

To say that Mayank Agarwal is India’s biggest gain from the series, is not an overstatement. Though a national team call-up might not be imminent, he has certainly come out of the series with his reputation enhanced. The way he weathered a troubling phase at the start of the innings with relative ease in the first match against South Africa ‘A’, when, at the other end, his skipper Unmukt Chand’s travail was getting more conspicuous with time, underlined his augmented mettle. And he went on the counter-attack shortly after, with the air of a man having figured out the way to wriggle out of the stranglehold. His positive approach signalled a gradual momentum shift and his big partnership with Chand clinched the match for India. As if to prove it was not just an instance of getting one-time lucky, he followed it up with a subdued run-a-ball 61 against Australia before exploding with a 133-ball 176 against South Africa once again.

Well done... Gurkeerat Singh Mann (left) and Sanju Samson return to the pavilion after taking India `A' to victory in the final against Australia `A'.-B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

These performances, coming as they are at a time when his ability to build an innings is in tacit impugnation, would definitely help him avoid being typecast as a T20 specialist. India ‘A’ coach Rahul Dravid opined that the dropping of the dashing opener from the Karnataka Ranji team last season would’ve served as a “wake-up call” for him.

Prior to the series, the final to be precise, Gurkeerat Singh Mann was known for his brief cameos with the bat for Kings XI Punjab in the IPL. But his all-round abilities came to the fore when he rose to the occasion to emerge the Man of the Final. He was drafted into the team for the last two matches. India was in a crunch situation in the final, when he came in to bat for the first time in the series after having rolled his arm over and picked up a couple of wickets.

India was 82 for four which called for circumspection. But as Manish Pandey and Axar Patel became victims of poor shot selection, the onus fell on Gurkeerat and Sanju Samson, to steer the team to victory without risking the exposure of the tail. Unaffected by pressure, Gurkeerat was lucid in accumulating runs and was easily the more comfortable of the two. Samson played second fiddle, as the duo gradually steadied the ship and cruised towards the end. It would be naive to suggest that a one-off performance would earn him a national team berth, but the fact that it has come on a big occasion and under pressure, would put Gurkeerat in the reckoning for it.

Australia’s leg-spinners, Adam Zampa and Cameron Boyce, impressed with their flight and turn to end up with five wickets each, but it is the former’s batting that gives him that extra edge over the latter.

Australians Joe Burns (left) and Usman Khawaja put on 239 runs against India in a league encounter.-K. PICHUMANI

While the highly-rated Cameron Boyce — former Australian off-spinner Ashley Mallet claimed that he’s the best Australian leg-spinner he had seen in first-class cricket after the legendary Shane Warne — had the pressure of living up to the expectations, Zampa had no such encumbrance. Also a case could be made that Zampa wasn’t really put to test with four of his five wickets coming in a single match against India under relatively low pressure with a tall total to defend.

Of the two, Boyce was the most economical and while they may not be the next in line for the spin bowling slot in the senior team, with the likes of Ashton Agar far ahead of them, they are promising prospects nevertheless.

On the batting front, Joe Burns who tore India’s bowling attack to shreds with 14 sixes en route to his 154 when Australia faced India for the second time in the series is already on the verge of making his ODI debut, having made it to the ODI squad for the series against England. He had previously scored a half-century in the only Test he played against India.

South Africa's Quinton De Kock was remarkable, scoring two centuries in the two matches he played and eyes a return to the national side.-B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

On a comeback trail are Australian Usman Khawaja and South African Quinton de Kock who staked their claim for a return to mainstream fold with 267 and 221 runs at an average of 66.75 and 110.50 respectively.

While Khawaja has been in sublime form, carrying his good run from the unofficial ‘Tests’ against India into the tri-series, de Kock was remarkable, scoring two centuries in the two matches he played. De Kock eyes a return after having been dropped whereas Khawaja has come back from a seven-month injury layoff.