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Chance for Pujara, Mahesh to impress

By: Harish Dimote

Cricketnext.com

Last Updated: July 24, 2007, 17:01 IST

Chance for Pujara, Mahesh to impress

India A start their two-month tour to Zimbabwe and Kenya at Harare on Tuesday.

Mumbai: The door is more than ajar for India hopefuls as the seniors left behind yet another evidence of an alarming downslide in the Lord's Test.

India A start their two-month tour to Zimbabwe and Kenya with their first game against Zimbabwe A at Harare on Tuesday.

Even though the quality of the opposition is lamentable, it should not hold back India's next-generation cricketers from laying down their markers in style.

The tour ought to mean a lot to Saurashtra's Cheteshwar Pujara and Tamil Nadu's Vijayakumar Yo Mahesh, both on the fringes of national selection for two years now.

After the India A squad was announced, chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar had hinted that Pujara might be asked to open the innings with Robin Uthappa. It will do Pujara's chances if he shapes up well against the new ball in unfamiliar conditions.

Coming up through the ranks of junior cricket, Pujara's talent sprouted in the 2005 Under-19 World Cup where he was the leading run-getter with 349 runs at an average of 116. But he would rather forget the tournament, for it reminds him of India's bizarre loss to Pakistan in the finals.

Anwar Ali Khan tore asunder India's top order after Pakistan were bundled out for 109. "He was not unplayable. It's just that we were a little complacent," he recounts.

Pujara still feels the hurt of that game, but faith in the Gita has steeled him to look at failures in the eye, write over the scars. It didn't unsettle the 20-year old one bit that he had the most unpropitious beginning last season.

He started with a duck and five in the Duleep Trophy (West Zone v South Zone), yet ended the year with an average of 50. When he got his eye in, he made it count as his 177 against Tamil Nadu and 139 against Delhi in the last Ranji Trophy season typify.

It's tribute to the boy's will and single-minded devotion to the game that he could get to this level despite the fact that Saurashtra isn't well-heeled in cricket infrastructure.

Pujara says that his recent stint at the Brisbane's Centre of Excellence (CoE), with batting coach Bene Hills, has made him an improved player.
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"I had my problems with the short ball but became better at it after the experience at the academy," he admits candidly. A string of good scores should keep Vengsarkar & Co. interested.

It had been held in some quarters that Vijayakumar Yo Mahesh was a little unlucky to miss a ticket for India's Test series in England. It was in England last year that he got a hat-trick in an under-19 One-Day series.

We know of Yo Mahesh as India's next crop of pace-men – one that decimated state line-ups at the under-19 level, one that clocks the high 130s consistently and creates angles with the gift of the in-coming delivery.

Fresh in mind are vivid memories of his exploits in the under-19 World Cup, his best moment (four for 32) arriving in the quarterfinal against the West Indies.

But there is something distinctly unique about this 6'2 gangling quickie. Unlike his cricket peers from the South, he believes in meat. And it bruises his pride when we rib him good-humouredly that India, unlike Pakistan and Sri Lanka, isn't a fast-bowling nation.

He says, "At times we have to bowl in searing hot conditions. It is different in England and Australia. Still, we have a good pool of speedsters. We don't lack in ability."

Then he adds, "The present crop of Indian fast-bowlers is fitness conscious. We will be a fast bowling generation."

It helped Mahesh a great deal that he was part of the recent camp at Australia's Centre of Excellence. "It was a fitness-oriented camp. I was trained under bowling coach, Troy Colley. I learnt new training drills and understood my body better," he says.

He elaborates, "With the kind of action I have, the strain is most on my groin and the back. I become skilled at exercises that should help me reduce the tension on these parts."

There is so much to know about the mental aspects of the game, Mahesh tells us. He says, "I learnt from Sachin (Tendulkar) and Rahul (Dravid) how to understand the strengths and weaknesses of batsmen from his stance and bat-lift. Like, if he has an open stance he could be strong on the onside. These are finer things but they may not work in every situation."

Perhaps, it would have been apt if he had started his international career under the ward of India's bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad who added the leg-cutter to his armour and worked on his consistency.

With an overkill of One-Day cricket this year, and Ishant Sharma not hitting the right notes in England, a call-up cannot be ruled out. Who knows, for Yo Mahesh, this season could be of high velocity.
first published:July 24, 2007, 17:01 IST
last updated:July 24, 2007, 17:01 IST