Overall, a fruitful tour

The India `A' tour of England was expected to focus on some young talent and set up competition among the players.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

Wasim Jaffer had a jolly good time with the bat. — Pic. RAJEEV BHATT-

The India `A' tour of England was expected to focus on some young talent and set up competition among the players. It achieved its purpose to some extent. Sandeep Patil, the coach of the team, insisted that the tour did provide the National selectors with enough stuff, and there was some merit in his assessment. The team, despite its unbeaten record in the tour, should have done better because the opposition, in most of the matches, was not up to the standard. India `A' won all the four limited-overs contests and one first-class match.

To put things in perspective, the India `A' players, many with Test match experience to back them, treated the tour as an opportunity to hone their skills. As left-arm spinner Murali Kartik rightly put it, the battle was more against the conditions than the opponents.

Any tour of England is considered daunting, because of the challenge thrown at the players by the constantly changing playing conditions. It can be sunny in one session and overcast in the next. To conquer these challenges is considered an achievement, especially for those bred on the docile tracks of the subcontinent.

The India `A' team was aware of the fact that it would not be pitted against the first eleven of the county teams. The match against Surrey was farce because the county did not deem it fit to include even one player from its first eleven. "We made a strong protest against this kind of attitude,'' informed Patil. He claimed that the quality of the opponents improved in the subsequent matches. "The teams were competitive in the remaining matches.''

"I was given a directive by the selectors to test a few players in certain specific slots and I'm glad that the results were encouraging. There were a few places up for selection and I believe a couple of players from the India `A' team could be eligible for coming assignments. I know it would require exceptional efforts to find replacement for players like Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Anil Kumble but then we need to keep trying,'' said Patil.

There was a sound opener in Wasim Jaffer, who topped the aggregate while Rohan Gavaskar had the best average. "I think Jaffer used the opportunity very well. He was consistent. To tell you the truth I don't think one could have any complaints against the batsmen at all. All of them got runs and ended the tour on a happy note by recovering against Warwickshire with a splendid batting show in the second innings,'' said Patil. A double century by Jaffer was the highlight of this match.

There were a couple of failures too. Vijay Bhardwaj and Satyajit Parab did not get many opportunities to show their potential but then these two failed to make an impression. Bhardwaj has been a proven failure at the international level and came a cropper on the England tour. "They were unlucky not to have played much on the tour,'' Patil defended the failures of Parab and Bhardwaj.

In the coach's opinion, the team showed a lot of character. "There were occasions when I thought they performed beyond expectations. Look at the statistics and see how all the batsmen made runs. The attack was not bad either. Salvi was injured in the initial stages of the tour and that was a blow to him but he recovered. Sriram too came back from injury problem to do so well with the bat. I think they showed a lot of character.''

Patil emphasised that as far as he was concerned, what counted was the consistency factor. "I've always believed in consistency more than anything. This tour could've been important for some of the players but then they must remember that the next two to three years would count a lot. Consistency comes from discipline and I must say that this team did well on both the counts.''

In the opinion of the coach, all the players looked good. "I wouldn't like to point out an individual. There was healthy competition and that brought out the best out of them when it mattered. I think we had plenty of gains from this tour.''

Patil had managed `A' teams in the past too and observed, "the attitude hasn't changed much. The players want to perform and make an impression and it was no different this time. I'm happy to say that they were serious about their job and very disciplined in their approach. I liked this aspect the most because I look for character. My job was to get the best out of them and it was great to work with this talented lot. I'm happy but not satisfied. There's a lot of scope in the fielding depart<147,2,1>ment. Honestly, I would like to work a longer time with the players before making a judgement.''

S. Sriram, who suffered an injury at the start of the tour, recovered to make an impact. — Pic. V. GANESAN-

The concept of `A' tours has received praise from all quarters with two former coaches, Madan Lal and Yashpal Sharma pleading for more such tours. "If you want your players to do well you need to provide them more competitions overseas,'' said Madan. "You can improve a lot when you test yourself in conditions away from home,'' agreed Yashpal.

How did the players respond to the challenge? Skipper Shiv Sundar Das said "it was quite a helpful tour for all of us. Personally, I managed to improve my concentration and also my footwork. My footwork was quite decisive against the seamers. It was also an education in preserving one's wicket because I aimed at surviving session by session. It helps in building one's innings.''

Kartik said "it is always a task to bowl in English conditions. You encounter a variety of pitches but this time it was a wonderful experience. It was more a battle with the pitch than the batsmen. We (spinners) had a lot of work initially and enjoyed every bit of it.''

The pick of the bowlers was Tamil Nadu seamer L. Balaji. He claimed 12 wickets on the tour but made an impression with his movement, exploiting the conditions to the maximum. Delhi seamer Amit Bhandari finished with 16 wickets to stake his claims in the senior team. Treated shabbily by the selectors and the skipper of the team, Sourav Ganguly, he worked hard on his fitness and skills to force his way back into the reckoning. In his own words, this comeback into the reckoning was his biggest gain. Avishkar Salvi of Mumbai was hit by injuries in the initial stages of the tour, but bowled a tidy line in the four matches he got to play. Haryana leg-spinner Amit Mishra too came in for praise for his long spells.

Among the batsmen, Jaffer boosted his aggregate with a knock of 218 against Warwickshire in the last match of the tour. For this Mumbai batsman, the tour meant a lot and his success should earn him a return to the national side.

Tamil Nadu left-hander S. Sriram was outstanding, slamming two centuries. He had suffered an injury in the `nets' at the start of the tour but recovered to make an impact. Incidentally, Sriram had toured England as an under-19 player with Patil as the coach in 1994. "That tour was purely as a bowler,'' said Sriram, who admitted it was a memorable experience for him to make two centuries this time.

Overall, it was a fruitful tour with the players and the coach returning with some fond memories. As Patil noted, there was room for improvement but then the team needed more such tours to prepare the players for international matches of high quality.

First-class matches:

India `A' 482 for nine decl. (Badani 133, Das 125, Kartik 50, Jaffer 43, Gambhir 35, N. Phillips four for 126) and 95 for three (Das 31) drew with Durham 333 for nine decl. (G. Muchall 121, M. Gough 56, I. Hunter 44, Kartik four for 112, Mishra three for 85).

Nottinghamshire 339 for five decl. (U. Afzaal 161, G. Clough 55, D. Bickneil 52) and 2nd innings forfeited lost to India `A' 1st innings forfeited and 341 for three (Rohan Gavaskar 139 not out, Parab 90, Rayudu 71).

Seamer L. Balaji exploited the conditions to the maximum. — Pic. V. GANESAN-

Yorkshire 246 (M. Lumb 65, T. Bresnan 52, C. White 31, Mishra four for 42, Pathan four for 60) and 296 for six decl. (M. Wood 88, M. Lumb 56, V. Craven 46, Kartik three for 76) drew with India `A' 336 for eight decl. (Patel 129, Jaffer 67, Mishra 52, Bresnan three for 88).

Surrey 173 (R. Clarke 38, Bhandari five for 54, Salvi three for 49) and 39 for no loss drew with India `A' 462 for four decl. (Gambhir 130 not out, Sriram 115, Rayudu 101 not out, Das 74).

India `A' 319 (Jaffer 90, Gambhir 64, Das 33, Rayudu 32) and 160 for three (Rayudu 58 not out, Badani 54) drew with South Africans 463 (J. Rudolph 83, G. Smith 79, H. Gibbs 79, G. Kirsten 75, D. Dippenaar 37, S. Pollock 36, R. Peterson 32, Salvi four for 92, Kartik three for 83).

India `A' 165 (Sriram 62, Rohan Gavaskar 61, S. Thomas four for 47) and 27 for one drew with Glamorgan 140 (A. Shaw 33, Bhandari six for 38, Balaji three for 58).

Warwickshire 537 (I. Trott 78, T. Frost 76, I. Bell 75, G. Wagg 74, M. Powell 68, M. Sheikh 42, C. Obuya 36 not out, Mishra five for 183) drew with India `A' 181 (Das 51, Sriram 41, Patel 46 not out, Bell four for 12) and 449 for two decl. (Jaffer 218, Sriram 104, Das 65).

One-day matches

Amit Bhandari too revelled with the ball, picking 16 wickets. — Pic. REJEEV BHATT-

British Universities 221 for nine in 50 overs (R. White 52, J. Francis 40, R. Ferley 35 not out, M. Pettini 34, Mishra four for 41) lost to India `A' 224 for two in 42.3 overs (Gambhir 128 not out, Rohan Gavaskar 41, Badani 33 not out).

Leicestershire 262 for three in 50 overs (D. Stevens 101 not out, P. Nixon 76, T. Ward 45) lost to India `A' 263 for six in 44.3 overs (Badani 111 not out, Gambhir 74, Masters three for 71).

Lancashire 191 in 47 overs (C. Schofield 69 not out, G. Maiden 62, Pathan four for 19, Salvi three for 38) lost to India 192 for nine in 44.4 overs (S. Mahmood three for 28).

India `A' 262 for eight in 50 overs (Sriram 50, Badani 48, Rohan Gavaskar 34, Rayudu 54, Fisher three for 45) beat Gloucestershire 193 in 44.2 overs (C. Harris 65, S. Malik 36, Pathan three for 38, Kartik three for 44).