Visakhapatnam: With the first unofficial Test match losing a day to rain, India A and New Zealand A will hope the second and final match at the Port Trust Diamond Jubilee Stadium stays free of the elements so a series result can be attained. Results are tough to come by in three-day fixtures and so taking wickets is the priority for both teams and on the basis of the first match in Visakhapatnam, its India A who appear to have the upper hand.
The hosts can claim to have gained the edge in the draw due to two factors: one, they bowled New Zealand A out and had their batsmen in all sorts of problems, and two, that two of their batsmen scored fine centuries. Eight of the New Zealand wickets to fall were to slow bowling, with Madhya Pradesh offspinner Jalaj Saxena taking 6 for 106 to improve on his previous A-level best of 4 for 61 against the touring Australians in February. Saxena triggered a collapse from 46 for 1 to 55 for 4 with three wickets in three overs.
As he told Cricketnext though, India A should have bowled out the opposition for far less while getting Ronchi cheaply if not for a slew of dropped catches. Had they been held, Saxena stressed, then Ronchi would not have scored a hundred and perhaps there could have been a result. Thus, India A will focus on shaping up in the field considering the chances of victory remain slim in three-day matches.
There are fewer concerns with the batting, though former Under-19 captain Unmukt Chand would love runs under his belt after making 4 in the first Test. Opener Jiwanjot Singh - who on first-class debut during the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season cracked a double-century - marked his first India A appearance with a solid 48 until he threw it away with a loose drive, and considering his tenacity for big scores you can expect the youngster to dig in his heels in the second match. Gujarat's Manprit Juneja - who like Jiwanjot marked his first-class debut with a double - was another who got a start (43) before falling.
The two success stories from the India A innings were 18-year-old Vijay Zol, who on Friday scored a century on first-class debut and Nayar, the captain, who crashed 14 fours and a six in his bullish 102*. If these forces combine again, and India A bat first, New Zealand A could be in for a tough time.
The tourists owed plenty to Ronchi's stroke-filled ton but barring Todd Astle's 157-ball 63 that helped the former Australia wicketkeeper add 146 for the seventh wicket, there was little New Zealand A could take satisfaction from. The top four batsmen made 40 runs between them as New Zealand's weakness against spin came to the fore, even on a good batting deck. Skipper Tom Latham made 15 before he poked Saxena to silly point; Daryl Mitchell edged his first ball faced, a flatter delivery, to first slip; Carl Cachopa (15) was foxed in the air and stumped. Jimmy Neesham made 27 to provide some resistance but Derek de Boorder's 0 was further proof of the batting fragility. New Zealand A needed some generosity from India's fielders and Ronchi's experience to get a respectable total on board, but will hope the top four stand up this time.
New Zealand A will be disappointed with their bowling performance too, in particular the efforts of Test players Mark Gillespie (wicketless in 17 overs) and Doug Bracewell (1 for 48 in 15). Astle was the best with 3 for 106 but conceded runs at 5.88 an over, while legspinner Ish Sodhi went at 4.19 and neither of his wickets owed to exceptional deliveries. With Bracewell looking to reclaim his Test spot, and Gillespie, at 33, still hoping to add to his five Test caps, the two experienced quicks will have to be better.
India A fielded three spinners - Rakesh Dhruv and Sarabjit Ladda were the other two - and once again it will be the slow bowlers who the New Zealanders will have to counter.
India A: 1 Jiwanjot Singh, 2 Unmukt Chand, 3 Vijay Zol, 4 Manprit Juneja, 5 Abhishek Nayar (capt), 6 CM Gautam (wk), 7 Jalaj Saxena, 8 Sarabjit Ladda, 9 Dhawal Kulkarni, 10 Aniket Choudhary/Imtiaz Ahmed, 11 Rakesh Dhurv
New Zealand A: 1 Tom Latham (capt), 2 Neil Broom, 3 Carl Cachopa, 4 Daryl Mitchell, 5 Luke Ronchi, 6 Jimmy Neesham, 7 Derek de Boorder (wk), 8 Todd Astle, 9 Doug Bracewell, 10 Ish Sodhi, 11 Mark Gillespie