Mumbai: Special invitees Cheteshwar Pujara and Shikhar Dhawan would be the closely watched by the national selectors when Mumbai A take on the visiting England team in the tourists' second three-day warm-up game here from Saturday.
Pujara, a prolific run-getter in domestic cricket and scorer of a ton in the opening Test against New Zealand in August, looks a certainty for India's first Test squad to be announced on the last day of this game. Dhawan is a strong contender to be the reserve opener at Ahmedabad following his big scores in the earlier part of the 2012-13 domestic season.
The Delhi batsman would have played in place of Abhinav Mukund for India A in the opening warm-up game but opted out of the originally announced squad as his wedding date clashed with the match. Apart from this duo, there are players like captain Suryakumar Yadav, Kshemal Waingankar and Balwinder Singh Sandhu Jr, who will be watched with interest by the selectors.
Medium pacer Waingankar, in fact, had taken a six-wicket haul when England last visited the country and played a warm-up game at Brabourne while Sandhu made an impressive Ranji Trophy debut as a new ball bowler last season. There are others like batsmen Hiken Shah and Bhavin Thakkar, apart from leg spinner Sagar Gorivale and medium pacer Javed Khan who would be eager to impress against a top visiting side.
The visitors, on the other hand, had a satisfactory outing in their opening drawn game against India A that ended Thursday. Most pleasing from their point of view was the long stays at the crease of captain and opener Alastair Cook and middle order batsman Samit Patel, both of who scored centuries.
There were attractive half centuries from Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior, the first choice stumper, to further give a boost to their confidence ahead of the tough battles in the four-Test rubber starting on November 15. Speedsters James Anderson and Tim Bresnan, expected to make the eleven at Ahmedabad, had long spells under the sun and on a wicket that was good for batting.
Anderson claimed four wickets by concentrating on moving the ball and Bresnan used his aggression, pace and the short ball to snap up 4 wickets par for the course. The third fast bowler who played in the game, Steven Finn, limped off after bowling only four overs due to a right thigh strain and is not likely to take the field in the second game.
Vice-captain Stuart Broad is certain to play along with the fifth pace bowler Graham Onions. The third and final warm-up game against Haryana is scheduled between November 8 and 11 at Ahmedabad. A small concern for the visitors was that part-time left arm spinner Yuvraj Singh grabbed a career first-class best of 5 for 94, and his victims included Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Patel and Prior.
However, pace spearhead Anderson said after the match that the visitors were not too concerned about Yuvraj getting a fifer. Lack of match practice against spin could be the undermining factor for the tourists who will be up against off spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and left arm Pragyan Ojha in the Test series.
The Indian spin duo has scalped wickets in a heap by bowling together in the last two Test rubbers at home against the West Indies and New Zealand. But for Sagar Gorivale, a leg break bowler, the Mumbai A squad also lacks a frontline slow bowler, which is seen as a ploy by the Indian selection committee to deny the visiting team good practice against slow bowlers ahead of Tests.
From the visitors' point of view, they may opt to give a chance to left arm spinner Monty Panesar to get into the groove. Panesar is fighting for a place in the eleven with Patel who has stolen the first march with a ton and a two-wicket haul in the visitors' tour-opener.
Mumbai A: Suryakumar Yadav (Captain), Cheteshwar Pujara, Shikhar Dhawan, Hiken Shah, Bhavin Thakkar, Nikhil Patil (Jr.), Shoaib Sheikh, Balwinder Singh Sandhu (Jr.), Sagar Gorivale, Javed Khan, Shardul Thakur.
England: Alastair Cook, James Anderson, Ian Bell, Tim Bresnan, Steven Finn, Samit Patel, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott, Sturt Broad, Graham Onions.