What are ‘Shadow Tours’ and Why are they Important?
A new cricketing phenomenon, ‘shadow tours’ have an important purpose
It happened in England, and it's happening again in Australia. In the arduous process of making India a world-best beating Test side, utmost importance is being given to the development of back up resources, with Rahul Dravid, the India A coach taking the lead on this front.
Before India's tour of England earlier this year, we saw the India A side tour the country and play a tri-series alongside the England Lions and West Indies A. With the dual purpose of being a team building exercise and as well as a way to have back-up players ready for long overseas tours, the “shadow tour” culture is gaining momentum.
With India touring Australia, a shadow tour was arranged to New Zealand with an eye on prepping the boys for the conditions on offer in Australia. While New Zealand offers distinctively different wickets, the experience in terms of weather is similar and the players get a hang of the extra bounce and seam on offer.
The tour in England saw as many as three players make the step up to Test cricket - Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant and Prithvi Shaw (shortly after the England series). The transition was so smooth that the three are already vital cogs in India's Test line-up, all thanks to the experience they gained under Dravid with the India A side.
“It is really nice to be able to hold such tours just before the Indian team visits these countries. We are trying to achieve that with the A team programme. We are trying to have shadow tours. We did it in England and we could obviously not do it in Australia, but it is great to go to New Zealand instead,” Dravid said ahead of the tour.
“I think it will be a very good opportunity for some of the boys who are requested by the senior team management to be a part of the A tour. They will be able to gain some match-time experience even if the conditions are not going to be exactly the same or it is not like being in Australia. The A team format is pretty competitive and it is match-time experience. It is a good opportunity in the lead up to international tours. What we see nowadays is that there is not much time for practice or practice games in the lead up to an international series because of the amount of cricket that is being played.”
The former India no.3 has a fair point. The Cricket Australia XI squad selected to play India in the lone warm-up game has several unknown names with D'Arcy Short, a T20 player, the only widely recognised name in the team. Practice games are a mere exercise now and hosts are adamant in not allowing visitors any undue advantage before the start of a tour. This makes the “shadow tour” program even more important.
The tour of New Zealand saw some of India's Test squad names making an early trip with Dravid in order to be game ready by the time the rest of the squad arrived. The likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Prithvi Shaw, Murali Vijay, Hanuma Vihari and Rohit Sharma were initially meant to be part of this series but Rohit pulled out due to workload issues, slightly bewildering decision considering that he played six T20Is either side of the first game in New Zealand.
Looking to make a case for himself in the Test middle-order, it would have been an ideal opportunity for Rohit Sharma to find his red ball rhythm but focus has changed to white ball cricket tremendously in recent times and it is no perhaps understable why that the limited-overs vice-captain chose to sit out this fixture.
The loss is his though for if the Australian tour sees an injury concern, the first name that is likely to be called upon is from one of those in the India A side who performed on the New Zealand tour. It would be no surprise either if he jumps the pecking order and makes the XI on current form. It happened in England when Vihari was brought straight into the XI even with Karun Nair in the side and could happen in Australia too.
Long tours are likely to see more injuries and the “shadow tour” programme ensures India have personnel fit and firing to choose from in case a need arises.
“It is exciting to be travelling to New Zealand with the India A team again. It is one of those countries where the conditions are a lot different from what our boys are used to back home. It is going to be a really good challenge. It will be an exciting opportunity for a lot of our players to experience what it is like playing there. A lot of them haven’t travelled there before and it will be a very good learning opportunity from our perspective.”
After the first two games in the series, India A players already seem to have a hang of conditions with the likes of Mayank Agarwal, Mohammad Siraj, Rajneesh Gurbani, Prithvi Shaw, Hanuma Vihari, Vijay Shankar and Navdeep Saini making an impression. At least two of them (aside from Vihari and Shaw who are already in the side) could be in contention if injuries arise during the Australian series.
As India look to retain their no.1 ranking in the longest format of the game, it is essential that they build strength from the roots and with a master tactician like Dravid at the helm of their junior side, India are already miles ahead of the rest in the race.