Clarke, Warner to sit out; Watson expected to open the innings for the visitor

In a matter-of-fact manner, Michael Clarke read out the Australian eleven for the three-day tour game against India ‘A’ at the IC-Guru Nanak ground beginning here on Saturday. Two names caught one’s attention.

Actually, it was where Shane Watson was slotted, rather than his mention itself, which made interesting reading. Watson was listed second, which meant he would open the innings with Ed Cowan.

Clarke explained that since he (recovering from a hamstring strain) and David Warner (a thumb injury) were striving to regain fitness ahead of the first Test starting at Chepauk on February 22, both would sit out this match.

However, if Watson does indeed walk out to open with Cowan, the Aussies, despite the southpaw’s half-century in the first tour game, might explore the possibility of Watson partnering Warner, a left-right pairing, in the first Test.

Watson’s elevation in the order could provide the Australian team the flexibility it needs to accommodate a spin or a pace bowling all-rounder.

Importantly, left-arm spinner Ashton Agar’s name too figured among the players for the match. Now, was not the 19-year-old West Australian, with just two first-class matches behind him, supposed to fly back after the first tour game?

The tall Agar’s ability to extract bounce with his height and high-arm action, and his impressive spell against Board President’s XI have prompted the selectors and team management to give him an extended run in India.

Interestingly, both left-arm spinners in the squad — the 30-year-old Xavier Doherty and Agar — are in the eleven and it could be a direct contest between the two for a place if Australia decides to enter the first Test with two spinners, including off-spinner Nathan Lyon.

Gautam Gambhir, captaining India ‘A’, will be keen to prove a point to the selectors following the loss of his Test place. He is a quality batsman whose methods have been impacted adversely because of the constant shuffling between various formats.

How the left-hander shapes up against a pace attack led by Peter Siddle and the nippy left-armer Mitchell Starc, will be watched with interest. Gambhir needs to play close to his body.

“He is a very good player. Some of the bowlers in our team might be relieved that he is not part of the Test squad,” conceded Clarke.

Promising players

India ‘A’ consists of some promising players, including 22-year-old top-order batsman Jiwanjot Singh, who has a stunning 995 runs in only 10 first class matches at 66.33 with five centuries.

The smooth-stroking Ajinkya Rahane, part of the Test squad, would be keen to present a strong case before the selectors for a middle-order slot. Rohit Sharma’s natural ability has not been backed by performances, at least in the big games. Can he make a serious bid for selection in the longer format?

It remains to be seen, though, if the pacemen in the squad — Vinay Kumar, Dhawal Kulkarni and Manpreet Grewal — get a fair chance to present their skills on what is likely to be a slow turner.

The teams (from):

Australian XI: S. Watson (capt.), E. Cowan, P. Hughes, U. Khawaja, M. Henriques, M. Wade, P. Siddle, M. Starc, N. Lyon, X. Doherty, A. Agar.

India ‘A’: G. Gambhir (capt.), Jiwanjot Singh, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, C.M. Gautam, Rakesh Dhruv, Jalaj Saxena, Manpreet Grewal, Vinay Kumar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Ashok Menaria, Abhishek Nayar.

Match starts at 9.30 a.m.

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