After the 50-overs practice game against Middlesex was done and dusted, two little blue dots appeared in Lord’s balcony. The smaller one just couldn’t stay still, while the considerably more round one moved about slowly.
A look through the telephoto lens from the other end of the stadium confirmed the suspicion. They were the effervescent
Sanju Samson and the rotund Karn Sharma, the two uncapped players in India’s limited-overs squad, clicking away selfies and pictures of each other at one of cricket’s most iconic places.
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Playing at the Home of Cricket on Friday meant they had ticked one square on their bucket list. Now, they will be hoping to check another box soon: that of earning an India cap. Let’s consider their respective chances.
One of India’s most promising young cricketers, Samson, the 19-year old from Kerala, was a bundle of nerves at the nets a day before the practice game. Perhaps the feeling of simply being in that time and space overwhelmed him. And so, when his turn came to bat at the nets, Samson edged the first ball bowled by an MCC net bowler. It set the template for the rest of the session, and the next day as well.
Walking in to bat at No.8 on Friday, after India’s top-scorer Ambati Rayudu retired out, Samson never looked confident and lasted just six deliveries before offering a catch back to left-arm spinner Ollie Rayner. That innings kind of ensured he will likely be fighting for the rights to carry the drinks for the rest of the series.
The leg-spinner’s outing was exactly the opposite of Samson’s. And one fact that certainly helped him was that while he might have been impressed with the venue, he was never really overawed.
Karn Sharma’s appearance has an air of anachronistic nonchalance about it, one which is not consistent with modern day cricket’s almost militant professionalism. And it reflects most magnificently in his rather ample girth. Outwardly he does not come across as someone who would give more thought to the prospect of playing at Lord’s than is strictly required.
In any case, he is from Meerut. Lord’s, to bowlers from this West Uttar Pradesh town, not unlike the Victoria ground.
These days they feel right at home at the Home of Cricket. Ask Praveen Kumar or Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
And so on Friday, on a track that assisted spin, he nicked three wickets for 14, the best figures among eight Indians who rolled their arms over. While the quality of Middlesex batting wasn’t really great, his bowling ought to have made a favourable impression on the new think tank.
Sharma brings to the table what the two other spinners don’t. Unlike R Ashwin or Ravindra Jadeja (who respectively took one and zero wickets), he doesn’t rely on any mystery or just darts the ball in delivery after delivery. He banks on good, old-fashioned spin bowling, putting extra revs on the ball.
And the fact England traditionally struggle against leg-spinners works in his favour. But will it be enough for him to get the nod?
If it were the pre-Oval Indian set-up, where an experiment-averse Mahendra Singh Dhoni used to have the absolute say, it was likely Sharma would have to be a passenger on many such tours before getting a look-in. Like Ishawar Pandey. Or Parvez Rasool. Or…
But the new boss Ravi Shastri, in his first game as in-charge, gave a strong hint that old loyalties may not be enough to merit a place in the Indian team. He sent Suresh Raina at No.11. After Karn Sharma.