India in Australia, 2007-08 December 4, 2007

Heroes of 2003 hope for comebacks



Dinesh Karthik's poor form in the two Tests against Pakistan will mean there is a question-mark regarding his selection to the squad for Australia © Getty Images

With the storm surrounding the chairman of selectors settling, if only for the moment, the focus shifts to the selection of the Indian squad for the four Tests against Australia. It's tough to predict much in Indian cricket these days but the 16-member squad is expected to be chosen without too many flutters.

India's good form of late means the selectors won't be inclined to make too many changes and are likely to go with five fast bowlers, two spinners, two wicketkeepers and seven batsmen. Barring a debate surrounding the openers and one related to the fast-bowling line-up, the team almost picks itself.

What the selectors will keep in mind, though, is performance on the last tour to Australia, one on which India memorably drew 1-1. Virender Sehwag, Aakash Chopra, Parthiv Patel and Ajit Agarkar may under normal circumstances have had an outside chance of making the cut but their case now will be strengthened by the impression they made four years ago.

The only member of the starting XI whose spot is under scrutiny is Dinesh Karthik. He was the highest run-getter in the three Tests in England earlier this year and also gives the team an extra wicketkeeper option but two poor Tests have brought him under the scanner.

He's managed just 39 runs in the last four innings but backing from the team management, as well as a section of the selection committee, could see him through. Parthiv, in fine nick of late, is the one pushing for his slot. He toured Australia last time around and close observers have pointed to his improved wicketkeeping but his selection would nonetheless go down as a big surprise.

The third opener's slot will be contested by three Delhi batsmen. Gautam Gambhir, the reserve opener on the England tour, starts as favourite. He's made a strong case with 342 runs in two Ranji Trophy games (at an average of 114) and would consider himself very unlucky to miss out.

His competition is two contrasting batsmen who opened the batting in all four Tests last time around. Sehwag, with a poor showing in two Ranji matches, remains in the reckoning because of his fine record in Australia. His buccaneering 195 on the opening day of the Melbourne Test the last time hasn't been forgotten and there is a belief that he still has it in him to swing a Test on his own.

Chopra's 215 in Dharamshala - he reached his double-century today with a six - provided a timely reminder that there is a third option. With 493 runs at 70.42 he has enjoyed a good, consistent run but remains only an outside contender. His close-in fielding could be an asset but he might well lose out in what's turned into a rat-race.

The rest of the batsmen, including Yuvraj Singh, pick themselves and Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh are all but certain to be the only two spinners on tour.

That leaves five fast bowlers, a choice largely dependent on the fitness of those involved. Sreesanth is all but ruled out, providing Irfan Pathan with an opening for a comeback. He's turned in some good spells in the Ranji games (11 wickets in two matches) and can be viewed as a fourth seamer who can bat lower down the order.

Zaheer Khan and a fit RP Singh are obvious choices. Munaf Patel, with a couple of good spells in the recent series, could make it despite his injury-prone nature and that leaves the fifth slot to be filled. Ajit Agarkar, who last played a Test nearly two years back, comes back into the reckoning and will battle with rookies Ishant Sharma, VRV Singh and Ranadeb Bose for a spot. Agarkar's six-wicket haul in Adelaide, added to his ability to get through a tour without picking up injuries, makes him the favourite for the final slot.

Probable squad

Wasim Jaffer, Dinesh Karthik, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Anil Kumble (capt), Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, RP Singh, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Ajit Agarkar.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

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