Ganguly in line for recall
India's stuttering form in the one-day arena may have an unlikely beneficiary: Sourav Ganguly is in line for a recall to the Test side, nine months after he was jettisoned followed the resounding 341-run defeat at Karachi.
Ganguly, Gautam Gambhir and VRV Singh are likely to be named in the squad for the Tests when the selectors meet on Thursday and, with Rahul Dravid not certain to play in the opening Test, Ganguly could join VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar in the middle order for what is likely to be a tremendous test of India's batting resources.
Wealth of experience is being considered an asset after Suresh Raina, Mohammad Kaif and Dinesh Mongia failed to make the transition on the bouncier pitches in South Africa. Ganguly has one Duleep Trophy century to his name this season, and the team's think-tank and the national selectors also reason that his will to succeed after all the travails of the past 18 months will inspire him to rediscover the sort of form that he last showed on the arduous tour of Australia three years ago.
The other contender for a middle-order berth is S Badrinath , the Tamil Nadu middle-order batsman and captain. Badri scored 636 runs from 7 matches in the last Ranji season, averaging a shade under 80, including a highest of 206 not out, and was only 6 short of Amol Muzumdar, the top scorer, who had played one match more. Badri is believed to have the ideal temperament, being a batsman who can graft and spend long hours at the crease while still having a full repertoire of strokes, as he showed in this season's first Ranji match, scoring 136 in more than 7 hours against Delhi .
Raina and Mongia will almost certainly head back, and Gambhir, who has piled on the runs in domestic cricket, will tussle with Wasim Jaffer for the second opener's position. VRV Singh is very much the wild card, with India seeking a tall and pacy quick-bowling option on surfaces where the heavy ball pitched just short of a length can do so much damage.
Irfan Pathan could be the other player to be handed a ticket home after the one-day series. Since embarking on the West Indies tour in May, Pathan's displays have been fitful at best and, with Zaheer Khan offering a revitalised pace-bowling option, Pathan may be asked to run the domestic treadmill in preparation for one-day series against West Indies and Sri Lanka prior to the World Cup.
Munaf Patel is unlikely to play before the warm-up match in Potchefstroom and, given Harbhajan Singh's inconsistency away from home, India could line up for the first Test with a bowling line-up that reads Munaf, Sreesanth, Zaheer and Anil Kumble. Ganguly's medium pace fetched him five wickets in a recent Ranji Trophy game at Mohali, and might well provide the fifth bowling option.
When Ganguly and Laxman were originally eased out, amid India's successes in the one-day arena, the expectation was that the likes of Raina would make the transition to the highest stage. But with the team struggling in recent months, the runs have dried up and a spell in domestic cricket is thought to be the best way in which to stitch back together the fabric of his game.
As Australia, and especially individuals like Justin Langer and Glenn McGrath, have shown recently, there's always a place for experience. And if Ganguly and Laxman can summon up some of the quality that made them marquee players, all might not yet be lost. A decade ago one TV pundit famously wrote off Alex Ferguson's Manchester United side by saying: "You can't win anything with kids". That golden generation proved him wrong, but in India's case, that prophecy appears to have come sadly true. Depending on the old guard is a short-term, band-aid solution, but for a team that has become a stranger to success in recent months, experience can only be a virtue.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo