A powerful mauler of attacks and a nagging medium-pacer,Abhishek Nayar’s contributions with bat and ball have been invaluable to Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy. Pretty much any domestic side would snap him up if they could have him play for them. Still,few first-class cricketers divide opinion as much as Nayar does,especially when the debate is about his capacity to play at the highest level.
Is his batting good enough to warrant a spot in the Indian Test team’s Top-7,and can he fit in as a third seamer when India are keen on playing two spinners? On paper,with a first class batting average of 56.73 and 32.04 with the ball,he should,without doubt,be the answer to India’s quest for a seam-bowling all rounder. But somehow,despite having been part of the India A setup over the last month or so,rarely has Nayar ever figured as a realistic option as far as the Test team is concerned. More often than not,it’s his medium-pace bowling that raises question marks rather than his aggressive batting.
There are days,though,like Wednesday at the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) ground in Hubli,when Nayar can prove a captain’s delight with the ball. Tireless and incisive,never short of an appeal,and at the batsman ball after ball. And despite being the fourth seamer in an India A bowling attack comprising Zaheer Khan,Ishwar Pandey and Dhawal Kulkarni,it was Nayar’s four-wicket haul — a day after he turned 30 that shook West Indies A as they were bowled out for 268 on the opening day,with India A finishing on 10/0 in response.
The home team’s pacers had more of a say on a Hubli wicket that had more on offer than the dead track in Shimoga.
It was Zaheer who drew first blood by getting rid of the in-form Kraigg Brathwaite. It was a classic case of a seasoned hunter coaxing his prey into his trap: three deliveries leaving the right-hander opener,two beating the bat,one a tad straighter to square him up,and a wide one to entice a poke from the hassled Brathwaite.
Zaheer,who has only gotten better with each spell since Shimoga,also exhibited his enhanced fitness by bowling two spells within the first session at full throttle. And he seemed equally penetrative in both. By his third spell after the lunch break,Zaheer was into his own,running in while shielding the ball in his palms,a sign that the ball was reverse swinging. There wasn’t much of it,though,with only two balls snaking in towards the leg stump of the left-handed Leon Johnson.
Unlike Zaheer,Kulkarni is at his best when conditions and the pitch assist in conventional swing. And despite coming in as first-change,he ended up posing a threat to the West Indies A batsmen while also providing scoring options. He kept the ball full,allowed it to swing and also bowled the delivery of the day,castling skipper Kieran Powell.
Kulkarni would admit later in the day that it was a planned dismissal: bowl around the wicket,and try to get the ball to straighten,exposing Powell’s weakness against the ball that leaves him. The plan was executed to perfection and the left-hander was left looking hapless. He continued to peg away,and had Assad Fudadin caught acrobatically by VA Jagadeesh in the slips,finishing with figures of 3/60.
Pandey showed promise with the new ball,striking both openers on the pads and having outside edges fly through the slips,but struggled in subsequent spells and was taken to task by the Johnson and Fudadin,who added 97 runs in a second session that saw the visitors upping the tempo.
Nayar,however,stuck to his strengths of badgering the batsmen outside their off stump and literally boring them into untoward errors. Blessed with neither pace nor the ability to swing the ball much,he was obdurate,bowled long spells and was justly rewarded. He caught Johnson,who stroked a fluent 81,napping with a ball that straightened into him slightly,but the other wickets came via loose shots away from the body-a Nayar trademark. Still,the Nayar debate is likely to rage on.
Brief scores: West Indies A 268 all out in 77.4 overs (L Johnson 81,A Fudadin 47,A Nayar 4/61) vs India A 10/0 in five overs (V Jagdeesh 8*,G Gambhir 2*)