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  Two-Test series  
  Opportunities for youth  
  AS a depleted Indian cricket team gets ready to take on South Africa in a two-Test series starting at Nagpur on February 6, questions are being asked whether it was worthwhile for India to tour Bangladesh, specially after such a taxing home series against Sri Lanka.

The Indian team returned from the tour of Bangladesh with four of its players on the injured list with at least two who might well miss the entire series against South Africa. And it must be remembered that beating Bangladesh 2-0 in the two-match series might not have enhanced India's status as the number one Test squad in the world but any loss to South Africa could well see them slipping down in the ICC rankings.

India gained just one point after their series win against Bangladesh to take their points tally in the ICC rankings to 125, just five points ahead of second-placed South Africa. But South Africa might well overtake the hosts if they were to win the series. But in case they lose to India in both games then South Africa could slip to the third place in the ICC rankings behind Australia so precarious is the space at the top.

In the series against Bangladesh, India's most dependable middle-order batsman V.V.S. Laxman injured his left hand, which required ten stitches, while attempting a catch at first slip in the first Test at Chittagong and missed out the second Test at Mirpur.

However, the national selectors are hoping that he will be fully fit for the Nagpur encounter. Then fast bowler S. Sreesanth strained his hamstring while bowling in the second innings of the first Test. He has not been included in the squad for Nagpur but, hopefully, should recover before the second game. His place in the Indian team has gone to Karnataka rookie 20-year-old Abhimanyu Mithun. But it must be added that a lot of critics are of the view that Mithun is probably the fastest bowler today in India and the selectors have done a good thing by including him in the squad so that the youngster -- even if he does not get a chance to play -- will get a feel of being in the national squad.

One reason why the national selectors opted to select the Indian team for only the first Test is the fact that they would like to see the progress made by Rahul Dravid, who fractured his jaw after being hit by a bouncer from Bangladesh bowler Shahadat Hussain (who bowled wonderfully well in both Tests) in the second game at Mirpur.

Any Indian test squad without Rahul Dravid is bound to be under pressure. But Dravid will miss the entire series against South Africa after doctors advised him two to three weeks' rest following surgery on his cheekbone in Bangalore on Friday.

Another player missing from the Indian squad for Nagpur is Punjab's Yuvraj Singh who hurt his left wrist even without playing a single delivery in the Mirpur game. Yuvraj has been ruled out for the entire Test series which sees the second game being played at the Eden Garden at Kolkata from February 14.

As questions are raised on the usefulness of a tour of Bangladesh, one can argue that the Test matches against South Africa (who were originally scheduled to play only one-day matches during their tour of India) were scheduled while the tour of the neighbouring country was on.

As it is, the Indian cricketers are playing non-stop cricket and it would not have been a bad idea for the national selectors to send players like Tamil Nadu batsman S. Badrinath, Bengal stumper Wriddhiman Saha and Abhimanyu Mithun, all of whom who have now found a place in the Indian squad, to tour Bangladesh. Sending of second-string Indian players to Bangladesh would have served two purposes. Even as the senior players would have got some well-deserved rest, the youngsters would have picked up some valuable experience which would have served them well in the future.

The current Indian squad has quite a few players who do not have much cricket left in them. So when they decide to hang up their bats there would be youngsters with the experience of having played in the longer version of the game at the highest level.
The writer is a senior journalist and sports commentator
  By  Abhijit Chatterjee  
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