Lions tours benefit England

Opener Joe Root is part of the England squad, but is unlikely to play a Test match on this India tour. This is often the fate of fringe players, who are forced to talk up the 'intangibles' they have gained from sharing a dressing room with international stars.

Root, however, is getting some genuine experience of Indian conditions. On Wednesday, he scored a cracking 166 for England Lions at the DY Patil Stadium, on a dry wicket, against an array of spinners including India U-19 star Harmeet Singh. The Lions, a group of academy players identified as future international players, have been touring alongside the senior team since 2005.

These shadow tours have ensured that England have 15 match-fit players at all times. At DY Patil, Steven Finn proved his bowling fitness, having recovered from a thigh strain sustained in England's first warm-up match. He also took four wickets to stake a claim for inclusion in the Kolkata Test. Graham Onions, Eoin Morgan and Stuart Meaker also got match practice.

Promising players outside the Test squad have also had a chance to show their mettle in foreign conditions. Left-arm spinner Simon Kerrigan took four wickets in Navi Mumbai. Were Graeme Swann or Monty Panesar to suffer an injury mid-tour, England can draft in a replacement at a moment's notice.

England, therefore, can literally choose their eleven from 30 players, all acclimatised and raring to go.

It's hard to say if their recent away successes they won the 2010-11 Ashes in Australia, as well as dramatic Test victories in Colombo and now in Mumbai are a consequence of their shadow-team policy. But the ECB have clearly shown long-term vision.

Bharat is a senior correspondent based in Mumbai.

bharat.sundaresan@expressindia.com

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