The recently-concluded unofficial Test series between India ‘A’ and New Zealand ‘A’, though ending in a stalemate, has given cricket lovers a glimpse into some of the future international stars from both nations.
Kiwi players Mark Gillespie, Neil Broom and Doug Bracewell brought in the dash of experience needed in the longer format, while India’s domestic titan Abhishek Nayar had the honour of not only leading his side, but also gave it the touch of maturity needed in tough situations.
There were fine performances from both teams, coming at just the right moments in crunch situations. Here is a list of five players who made a lasting impression on the cricket-loving public and, quite possibly, the national selectors:
5. Doug Bracewell (New Zealand ‘A’ – 112 runs and 4 wickets)
The former Kiwi national fast bowler did no harm to his reputation as he churned out a series of reasonably good performances in both games. Though his final tally of wickets do not reflect his abilities, he showed good control over his line and length, while maintaining enough speed to trouble the young Indian batsmen.
Even with the bat, Bracewell defied the Indian bowlers with a superlative innings as he shared an important partnership with Ish Sodhi for the ninth wicket in the second Test. His ability to wield the long handle, well enough, to score valuable runs lower down the order and strike early blows into the opposition line-up should earn him a permanent place in the New Zealand Test team for quite a considerable period.
4. Todd Astle (New Zealand ‘A’ – 80 runs and 5 wickets)
The Canterbury cricketer used to be a mediocre opening batsman early in his first-class career, so he decided to move down the order and focused on improving his leg-spin in order to keep his place in the team.
Astle’s move did pay rich dividends. Since moving into his new role as an all-rounder, he has been very consistent in the domestic arena with both bat and ball. On the tour of India, his art has only served to churn out impressive performances.
During the first unofficial Test against India ‘A’, Astle provided steady support to Luke Ronchi, scoring a half-century in the process. He also struck a few vital blows, troubling Unmukt Chand with his leg-breaks before finally getting his man, and added two more victims to his tally before Vijay Zol and Abhishek Nayar steered their side to a creditable draw.
Astle has so far played just a single Test for the senior squad – against Sri Lanka in 2012. His all-round abilities will only be a vital asset to the national team in terms of bolstering the spin attack along with veteran left-arm tweaker Daniel Vettori.
3. Abhishek Nayar (India ‘A’ – 159 runs and 1 wicket)
He may not have enjoyed MS Dhoni‘s confidence during his brief spell in Indian colours, but Mumbai all-rounder, Abhishek Nayar, is a force to be reckoned with in the domestic arena. A skilled left-handed batsman, Nayar can both graft for runs as well as hit the ball hard while in pursuit of quick runs. He is also a fine fielder and has often bailed his team out of trouble.
Chosen to lead the ‘A’ team against the Black Caps, Nayar paired up well with young Vijay Zol in response to the Kiwis’ first-innings total of 310. With Astle weaving his spin web, the experienced campaigner played a solid, responsible knock as he guided his younger partner towards a well-deserved maiden first-class hundred.
Nayar did little with the ball, though and has only one wicket to show for his efforts. But most importantly, he marshalled his troops well, and performed extremely well with the bat.
2. Jalaj S Saxena (India ‘A’ – 30 runs and 8 wickets)
Another player who has been plying his trade on the not-so-helpful tracks offered in domestic cricket, Jalaj Saxena wrecked the New Zealand batting line-up in the first Test with his off-breaks. None of the batsmen were able to pick his variations, except for the top-scorer Luke Ronchi and all-rounder Todd Astle. The Indore lad, eventually, went on to pick up six wickets in that innings.
Saxena plays as an all-rounder for the Madhya Pradesh Ranji team, but his batting has deteriorated since his early days in cricket. Although he started off as an opener and has scored a hundred to his credit in first-class cricket, he now comes in to bat at no. 8. His numbers may not be that great, but at 27, Saxena does have plenty to offer to the national side – as long as he is able to justify his ‘all-rounder’ tag with some consistent batting performances, while continuing to take wickets.
1. Manprit Juneja (India ‘A’ – 236 runs)
Easily the find of the short tourney. Young Manprit Juneja pulled out all the shots in his book during the final Test against the visitors. After making 43 in the first game, the right-hander from Gujarat walked into a crisis with his side at 16/2, trailing New Zealand by over 400 runs.
He immediately took charge of the proceedings and got some momentum going by striking a few boundaries. Blending caution with aggression and displaying nerves of steel, Juneja attacked the predictable Kiwi bowling over and over again, adding 197 with opener VA Jagadeesh, and another 88 runs with skipper Abhishek Nayar. He quickly changed gears after both batsmen were dismissed, holding up one end as wickets kept falling at the other end.
Juneja missed out on a double century by seven runs, but such was the brilliance of his batting display that India ‘A’ eventually finished seven runs behind the Kiwi total, and held on for a draw as time ran out in the visitors’ second innings. His sublime innings was easily the best of the lot, surpassing even Luke Ronchi’s 125 in the first match.
It was a well-paced knock, coming at a crucial juncture and especially when wickets were falling all around him. This young Delhi Daredevil batsman is definitely a magnificent future prospect for the senior team.