Testing the untested players

“The BCCI is doing a great job in sending ‘A’ teams abroad often now. These players are the bench strength of the Indian team,” says Lalchand Rajput to Ashwin Achal.

The India ‘A’ team had its preparatory camp ahead of the tour of New Zealand at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore recently. The coach of the team, Lalchand Rajput, a former India cricketer, spoke to Sportstar on the benefits of India ‘A’ tours and the standard of junior cricket in the country.

Excerpts:

Question: Would you agree that it is more useful for the India ‘A’ team to play abroad rather than at home?

Answer: It is always better to play abroad. The BCCI is doing a great job in sending ‘A’ teams abroad often now. These players are the bench strength of the Indian team. Once these players go to other countries and get accustomed to conditions there, they will be well prepared for tours when selected to the Indian team.

Are you happy with the team selection? Any updates on wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha?

It is a well-balanced team of youngsters and seniors. Selection is the selectors’ job; our job is to fire as a team. We have a good bunch of batsmen to choose from, and when there is competition in the team, it helps the players perform better.

Regarding Saha, I think he had a foot or toe injury (at the time of team selection). That is the reason why I think he was not selected.

How does this team compare to the one that toured the West Indies recently?

You cannot compare teams. That was a team that had a lot of India players in it. Now, the selectors have given a break to players who have done well in domestic cricket, those who have not been tested at the higher levels. This is an opportunity for these untested cricketers to prove their worth.

What does it take to make the jump from India ‘A’ to the senior Indian team?

If a cricketer is mentally tough at the international level, he has already won the battle. Technique and skill wise, since most of our players have been playing at the domestic level, only minor adjustments need to be made.

Ready for the big stage? The India `A' tour of New Zealand will be a big test for Unmukt Chand.-AP

As a former coach of the India under-19 team, how would you compare the standards between the under-19 and India ‘A’ squads?

We have had good success at the under-19 level. There are good young cricketers, and we must train them well. However, I think India ‘A’ is of a higher standard. If a player who does well in the under-19s gets a break in India ‘A’, we must see how he copes with this level. The pressure here is slightly higher than the under-19. It is a good thing for the junior players who are picked for India ‘A’ to experience this level of cricket. It will help them get ready for the big league.

Do you see the India ‘A’ team as a bridge between the under-19 and the senior team?

Yes, exactly. You can’t directly jump from under-19 to the senior team. There are steps to be climbed, there is a process and I think India ‘A’ is part of that process. You should first succeed in India ‘A’ and then go on to the Indian team.

Of late, there have been suggestions that under-19 players should directly be picked for the Indian team. To judge a player, it is very important that he plays at least one season of first-class cricket. It could either be the Elite or Plate divisions, but one season of first-class cricket makes a player mature. They will know what to expect at the highest level and are mentally better prepared for it.

Is the India ‘A’ tour a good way to test Unmukt Chand to see if he is ready for international cricket?

Unmukt did exceptionally well in the Under-19 World Cup. And even before the World Cup, he had an excellent Asia Cup. He didn’t show great form in the first few matches of the tournament, but showed his class in the final. India was under pressure at 90 for four, and he played a captain’s knock (unbeaten 111). That proved to us that he is a very strong player. This tour is a real test for him. I am sure that if he can pass this course, the next step is the Indian team.