Jaffer, Zaheer and Kumble added to ODI squad
Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble and Wasim Jaffer have been included in India's one-day side for the tour of South Africa, the five-match series starting on November 19. As expected, the national selection committee did not plump for new blood but reposed faith in the tried and tested while picking the 16-man squad.
The five-man committee, headed by Dilip Vengsarkar, the former Indian captain, chose seven specialist batsmen, five fast bowlers and two spinners. The injured duo, Yuvraj Singh and Ajit Agarkar, were also part of the squad but a couple of players were put on standby to take their place if necessary.
Agarkar, who had injured his left thumb, is scheduled to undergo a fitness test on November 10 while the report regarding Yuvraj's cruciate ligament will be out this evening. VRV Singh, the fast bowler from Punjab, and Dinesh Karthik, the Tamil Nadu wicketkeeper who's played three ODIs, were the two stand-bys.
Jaffer, who is yet to make his one-day debut, made the cut ahead of the likes of Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa but Vengsarkar suggested that the nature of the surfaces in South Africa prompted the move. "We're expecting to get grassy, bouncy wickets there and Wasim has the technique to bat on those wickets. He's a proven player and has had success in Tests. I think any good Test player can do well in one-dayers."
Suresh Raina retained his spot in the middle order, though it may be his fielding ability rather than his batting that edged him ahead. "VVS Laxman is a class player but he has a fitness problem," said Vengsarkar when asked about his case, "and we thought his fitness wasn't good enough for one-day cricket. Raina has the potential but he needs to perform now. I think we need to groom him."
RP Singh and Ramesh Powar missed out to their more illustrious rivals. Zaheer Khan made a return after nearly eight months while Kumble, who last played one-dayers more than a year ago, also earned a recall. Kumble hasn't been a force in one-dayers for a while - he's been picked for just 23 matches since the 2003 World Cup - but his experience and quality, in a side where the bowlers need a senior guiding hand, was no doubt a factor that went in his favour.
Zaheer was one of those who barged through the door on sheer performance. His 78 wickets in 16 games inspired Worcestershire to the first division and he too would be handy in lending his experience to the younger fast bowlers. "Zaheer has improved a lot," asserted Vengsarkar, "and he's hungry for success."
He added that India's Champions Trophy performance, where they failed to make it to the semi-final, was a point of discussion between the selectors and team management. "Both the coach and captain are not happy with the performance," he continued, "but I think the team is pretty balanced. The players haven't been in good form and that's been the main problem. Our top five batsmen failed to stay till the end while our bowlers couldn't get us early breakthroughs. But we can't make wholesale changes."
The most worrying aspect was Vengsarkar's comment on the bench-strength, when he said there was "not much talent" around at the domestic level. "There are many who are good at the first-class level," he said," but I cannot say I have seen any exceptional talent."
Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid (capt), Wasim Jaffer, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Mongia, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Irfan Pathan, Yuvraj Singh (Dinesh Karthik on stand by), Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble, S Sreesanth, Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel, Ajit Agarkar (VRV Singh on stand by).
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo