India ponder change in Test opening
India's selectors could have finally run out of patience with the established Test opening combination. ESPNcricinfo understands* that at least two selectors want Wasim Jaffer in the squad for the Australia Tests, "most probably" replacing Gautam Gambhir.
The Sandeep Patil-headed selection panel will meet on Sunday to pick the squad for, most probably, the first two Tests against Australia. The panel is likely to retain most of the other batsmen who featured in the 15 for the Nagpur Test against England but the faltering openers will be under the scanner.
With M Vijay hitting a century in the Irani Cup and Jaffer having plundered 915 runs from 12 innings this season, the growing feeling among the selectors is that both Vijay and Jaffer "deserve to be in the squad". While Vijay was the reserve opener during the Test series against England, Jaffer last played for India almost five years ago.
Despite increasing doubts over Virender Sehwag and Gambhir's place in the side, a couple of selectors also feel the Delhi pair deserves to be given "one final chance". Though Sehwag, who pulled out of the Irani Cup tie with a stomach upset, scored a century in the opening Test against England in Ahmedabad, he lost his place in the ODI side soon after.
Gambhir's drought of centuries has extended over three years, and he has averaged just over 30 since then. If the pro-Jaffer selectors manage to convince the rest of their colleagues, the casualty will "most probably" be Gambhir.
While Ajinkya Rahane set to be retained as the reserve batsmen, Ravindra Jadeja, who made a surprising debut at No. 6 in the Nagpur Test, could make way for either Suresh Raina or Rohit Sharma.
In the spin department, R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha are assured of leading the attack. It will again be a toss-up between Piyush Chawla, who played the last Test against England, and Harbhajan Singh for the reserve spinner's slot.
Although Harbhajan is on the verge of leading Rest of India to the Irani title, his performance with the ball hasn't been compelling in the domestic season. His lack of "big-wicket hauls" may go against him though his outstanding record at home against Australia could prove "too difficult to ignore" for the selectors.
With Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav and Irfan Pathan recovering from injuries, the selectors will have a tough task of finding their replacements; they may have to rely on the second string of pace bowlers. Though Ishant Sharma's ankle pain recurred recently, he is expected to be available for the Test series.
The contenders for the remaining two fast bowlers' slots will include Sreesanth, who has recovered from multiple toe surgeries, Madhya Pradesh's Ishwar Pandey, the highest wicket-taker in the Ranji Trophy season, Shami Ahmed and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, both of whom have impressed on their limited-overs' debuts against England and Pakistan. Ashok Dinda and Parvinder Awana, both of whom were in the squad for the Nagpur Test, are "out of reckoning".
The selectors had dropped Zaheer, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan after losing the third Test against England.
MS Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher are unlikely to attend the meeting, to be held at the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai, and it is "almost unlikely" that the selectors will discuss replacing Dhoni as captain.
Likely squad: MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir/ Wasim Jaffer, M Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja/ Suresh Raina/ Rohit Sharma, R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan Singh/ Piyush Chawla, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth/ Shami Ahmed, Ishwar Pandey/ Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
February 9, 7.45pm GMT This story has been updated with information about the openers
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo