The scheduling of the India A tour of the West Indies could not have been better timed. The Indian team is in the process of rebuilding following the double
debacles in England and Australia. Rahul Dravid has retired, there is uncertainty about VVS Laxman's future and question marks remain over the bowling.
The A and Under-19 tours have been excellent concepts and it was hoped that the three 'Tests' in the Caribbean would throw up a few answers to the
questions plaguing Indian cricket. Some of the best young talent were sent in the hope they would perform and help fill in the gaps in the senior team.
Unfortunately, on the basis of what we saw in the three matches it appears that the problems will remain for barring a couple of players the others failed to
grab the opportunity the tour gave them. West Indian cricket is not exactly on a high these days but losing the three match series 1-2 was a disappointing
result for the tourists.
Moreover the series provided no solutions to the problems the Indian team faces.
The middle order in the Indian team will need to have a new face or two and the selectors did well to send Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwari and
skipper Cheteshwar Pujara on the tour. There is little doubt that the quartet comprise the best among the young hopefuls expected to step into the shoes of the illustrious seniors.
But while one of them was a total failure the others did not do enough to clinch a place in the Indian team. Rohit finished with 145 runs in three games with a highest score of 94 - figures that are neither here nor there. That he also picked up nine wickets with his off-breaks is incidental and certainly more was expected from one of Indian cricket's brightest prospects as far as Test cricket is concerned.
Manoj Tiwari had returns of 182 runs in the three matches with a highest score of 62 while the captain had a rather successful series topping the figures with 252 runs with a highest score of 96 not out and two more half centuries. The manner in which he came to the rescue of his side time and again underlined his ideal temperament even as we in India, are familiar with his scintillating strokeplay and excellent technique.
But the failure of Rahane to come good - just 62 runs in six innings - with a highest score of 32 are hardly the kind of figures one would have associated with a batsman widely being touted about as the next best thing to happen to Indian cricket.
The tourists were fortunate to have Wriddhiman Saha among the runs late in the order. The wicket-keeper's aggregate of 158 runs included two half centuries. But then with Parthiv Patel and Dinesh Karthik around there is plenty of competition for the reserve stumper's slot.
The problems with the batting is best underlined by the fact that not once in the six innings did the team put up a total of 300.
While Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag are still firmly slotted as the opening pair failures in England and Australia have exposed some chinks in their armour.
The best Indian opening pair since Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan cannot last for much longer given the fact that Sehwag is in his 34th year. For a player whose game depends so much on hand-eye co-ordination it is a tribute to Sehwag that he has lasted longer than a decade with an excellent record to boot.
But the first signs that either all is not well with his game or that the bowlers have sorted him out appeared in the contests in England and Australia. The A
tour of the West Indies gave the opportunity to the likes of Abhinav Mukund and Shikhar Dhawan but both were dismal failures. Mukund could muster just 46 runs in six innings including a pair while Dhawan's tally was 30 runs from four outings.
This was a cause for concern and it looks like Gambhir and Sehwag will have to carry on for some more time before the next opening bating prospect is discovered.
The bowling too presented problems. Much was expected of Rahul Sharma given the fact that he is considered the front runner for the spinner's slot in the
Test team and also the fact that the West Indian batsmen are traditionally weak against leg spinners. Rahul's return of five wickets at 44 apiece from two
matches were rather disappointing figures.
Parvinder Awana and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar got just one match each and did reasonably well. As pace spearhead Ashok Dinda lived up to expectations finishing with four for 110 in two matches but was overshadowed by his teammate from Bengal Shami Ahmed. The 22-year-old medium pacer was perhaps the one find of the tour. Not only did he finish with 13 wickets at just under 19 apiece he also bolstered the late order with some valuable contributions.
Another to catch the eye was Akshay Darekar, the left-arm spinner from Maharashtra. In two matches the 23-year-old captured eight wickets at just over 24 apiece including the best innings figures by an Indian bowler in the series - six for 67 in the second match.
Overall then it was not a successful series for the visitors in more ways than one and coach Lalchand Rajput was at least honest in admitting that ''we didn't think the series would go this way. Ours was a strong batting line up that never clicked as a unit. The conditions were difficult but we should have done better.''
Ultimately hardly anything was learnt from the series and that is the big worry even as the rebuilding process continues.