Kuldeep Yadav picked up three wickets as he staked his claim to be in the playing XI for the first Test against West Indies in Antigua. (Image credit: Twitter)
Ishant Sharma continued his fine form in red ball cricket with a brilliant spell of bowling on the second day of the warm-up game between India and West Indies A at Coolidge, Antigua. Ishant took three wickets and was ably assisted by Kuldeep Yadav (3/35) and Umesh Yadav (3/19) as India bowled West Indies A out for 181 and got a lead of 116 runs. India batted again in the second innings but Ajinkya Rahane's form continued to be of concern as he scratched around for an unbeaten 20 off 95 balls. Rahane looked horribly out of touch during his 35 overs at the crease. His 20 not out had three boundaries but he played more than 80 dot balls, a testimony to his struggles while Hanuma Vihari looked solid in his knock of 48 as India took their lead to 200. However, the performance of Kuldeep and Umesh highlighted India's problem of plenty in the squad.
Umesh, who hasn't been among the top three pacers in the starting line-up, also gave a good account of himself rocking the A team's middle-order. However, with Bumrah, Shami and Ishant being the top-three choices, it will be difficult for him to break into the side unless Virat Kohli decides upon playing four specialist fast bowlers. For Kuldeep, getting three wickets will keep him in a good headspace and if India happen to play five bowlers with two spinners, he is sure to play his part.
The toss-up for the spinner's spot will be interesting. Ashwin has been plagued by fitness issues during the England and Australia series and his last Test was in December 2018 in Adelaide. Following the Test, Ashwin did not play in the subsequent Tests due to injury while Kuldeep took 5/99 in the Sydney Test to underline his growth in the team. Ashwin did not bowl much in the warm-up game and Virat Kohli might be tempted to field Kuldeep in addition to Ishant, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah.
The situation with Umesh is bizarre. After a stellar home season in 2016/17, Umesh played in just three out of six Tests against Sri Lanka while he took 10 wickets against West Indies in Hyderabad but still did not get a regular place in the team. In the England and Australia series, Umesh played in one Test in Birmigham and Perth respectively. Looking at his good record against West Indies, Umesh is the dark horse to be in the side but with Bumrah, Ishant and Shami performing well overseas, it will be an uphill struggle for him.
Brief Scores: India 297/5 decl and 84/1 (Hanuma Vihari 48 batting, Ajinkya Rahane 20 batting). West Indies A 181 in 56.1 overs (Ishant Sharma 3/21, Umesh Yadav 3/19, Kuldeep Yadav 3/35).