Zaheer out, Gambhir in for England Tests
Zaheer Khan has failed to find a place in an unusually large squad for the five Tests against England starting July. Other major talking points in the 18-man squad were the return of Gautam Gambhir, who last played Tests for India in December 2012, and the inclusion of Rajasthan's pace bowler Pankaj Singh. The touring party included the top seven that went to New Zealand, retained the two spinners, featured six quicks and one seaming allrounder, to go with Gambhir and reserve wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha.
The biggest talking point was the exclusion of Zaheer. A series of injury problems had raised questions over the 35-year-old Zaheer's ability to last a Test series and though he dispelled those worries by bowling 107 overs in the two Tests against New Zealand earlier this year, a back injury forced him to miss almost the entire India leg of the IPL. It is still unclear whether Zaheer has missed out due to the injury, or whether he has been dropped.
The last time India went to England, in 2011, Zaheer broke down in the second session of the first Test, never to recover. That was the beginning of India's dramatic slide in overseas Tests.
Gambhir, another casualty of that England tour, returned to the Test squad after a year and a half despite a middling first-class season as the squad is short on experience: only two other members in the squad, MS Dhoni and Ishant Sharma, have played Tests in England. There were no other outstanding contenders for the back-up openers' slot.
Pankaj has been rewarded for several successful seasons on the domestic circuit, including 39 wickets at 22.46 in the 2013-14 Ranji Trophy. He had also been integral to Rajasthan's run to successive Ranji titles in 2010-11 and 2011-12, and has made several impassioned pleas questioning his absence from the national squad. If Pankaj gets to play a Test, he will become the India bowler with most first-class wickets before Test debut, 300, beating R Vinay Kumar's 241.
The six quicks were joined by allrounder Stuart Binny. The only back-up batsman in the squad was Gambhir, with Saha on hand as second-choice wicketkeeper.
India have not played a five-Test series in more than a decade, the last was against West Indies in 2002. India have not won a Test abroad in three years, and have lost away series to South Africa and New Zealand in the past six months, causing them to slide to No. 5 in the ranking.