Australia in India 2012-13 February 10, 2013

A horses-for-courses squad

India's selectors didn't have too many riches to pick from, and given the limitations, have chosen a fairly balanced squad

The team picked for the first two Tests against Australia indicates much: the gaps Indian cricket is struggling to fill, what shape the playing XI could take, and the kinds of surfaces the Australians can expect to face in Chennai and Hyderabad. The selectors have fallen back on history and yet tried to keep their eye on what lies ahead. Given the choices available to the selectors, and the powers vested in them, it is a fairly balanced and reasonable selection.

If any player can feel himself hard done by in this selection, it has to be Wasim Jaffer. Jaffer has had a prolific domestic season, and looked to be a shoo-in for a playing XI in which a successful opening partnership has been separated. He has churned out 835 runs at 75.90, including three hundreds and four half-centuries in the Ranji Trophy. He also scored 80 and 101 not out in the Irani Cup this week. He has looked a cut above other domestic openers and is a reasonable slip fielder, which could have spared India a cordon featuring R Ashwin or Cheteshwar Pujara with shin pads on.

ESPNcricinfo has learnt that the selectors felt the same way, but were told by the board that picking Jaffer would be a contradiction of its "youth policy". Jaffer is just a week short of 35. But in a batting line-up where the composure of the experienced is being missed, picking him for two Tests at least would have been a risk worth taking.

The selection of Shikhar Dhawan over Gautam Gambhir, one Delhi left-hand batsman for another, is not the like-for-like replacement it appears to be. It is the selectors' way of censuring Gambhir for his run of low scores in the last two years over five Test series, with no sign of any upward climb back to the position he enjoyed at the start of the 2011 World Cup. Dhawan has been rewarded for his first-class runs this season. His chances of partnering Virender Sehwag in the Chennai Test, however, hinge on M Vijay slipping in the bathroom and twisting his ankle on the morning of the Test.

Vijay has had a poor Ranji season - 138 runs from 8 innings, top score 42 - but has been kept in the mix for selection matches, with scores of 76 for India A against England and now 116 and 35 in the Irani Cup to go with the double-century in the first Irani Cup. The selectors' faith in him must rest in his average of 47.5 in five Tests at home across six years; besides, his only century in Test cricket came in Bangalore against Australia in 2010-11. If he has to step up and book a seat to South Africa, he must do so decisively when facing Australia's quick bowlers.

History has proved a much more powerful ally for Harbhajan Singh. His return to the squad after playing third spinner to R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha in Mumbai against England has come not on the back of large bags of wickets in the Ranji Trophy this season, but rather his astonishing record - 81 wickets in 12 Tests at 24.48 - against Australia at home. Harbhajan has been given another go in the hope that his absence from the team will have spurred him into examining his bowling and made him want to return to the strike-bowler, match-winner category. Ashwin and Ojha's struggles against a quality batting line-up like England, and the lack of spin options, have pushed the selectors to throw Harbhajan a line again.

In an informal conversation a few months ago, one of the selectors had previously remarked that the relentless drive for fast and bouncy pitches across the country over the past decade had led to two alarming trends: a sudden drop in the number of junior cricketers wanting to pursue a career in spin bowling, and a rapid decline in young Indian batsmen's skills against quality spin bowling. The consequences are placed at the selectors' tables today.

The presence of Ravindra Jadeja however, following on from his performance in Nagpur against England, gives the team one more option in their playing XI: to field Jadeja as the floating 'allrounder' who can bat at either No. 6 or 7 - against the soundtrack of Ajinkya Rahane's heart breaking - and send down more than a few overs if needed. Up against a raw Australian line-up, it's a gamble that can be worth considering.

While India's fast-bowling cupboard is far from bare, the list of options has been trimmed by injury. The absence of Zaheer Khan - originally dropped for the fourth Test against England - and Umesh Yadav, and the general flakiness of Sreesanth, have meant that Ishant Sharma must take charge (and wickets) again. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has rightly been selected following his success in the ODIs versus Pakistan and England.

The Sandeep Patil committee has, in every selection, made it a point to send out messages to established cricketers - to Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan and Suresh Raina in Tests, and Virender Sehwag in ODIs. This time it was Gambhir's turn. What they will be looking for from these sorts of decisions, however, is some payback and substantial gains on the field against Australia.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo; Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • karthik on February 13, 2013, 19:06 GMT

    I completely agree with those saying Sehwag must play down the order.Moreover it will be foolish to have him again open the innings when he's failed repeatedly in the last 9 matches barring that 100 in A'bad.At least for the sake of it,we need some change.Get Rahane and Dhawan in for opening (if the selectors logic for ignoring Jaffer is to be validated).Also middle order is the noly way Sehwag looks like will get some runs at this stage given his form.And can also derail Oz spinners' plans by attacking 'em.

    You can always go back to Vijay if Dhawan fails but he needs a go.Rahane Dhawan Pujara Sachin Kohli Sehwag will be my top 6.But as @Nampally rightly says, Dhoni will never change his approach and thinking no matter how many humiliations we endure.So he will ignore Rahane again, play Sehwag & Vijay as openers and Jadeja at 6.Nice way to fit in all his CSK folks isn't it?

  • Vivek on February 12, 2013, 21:58 GMT

    I think Sehwag's selection has more to do with a phased replacement of him and Gambhir. His batting has always relied on hand-eye coordination rather than technique and temperament. He has never seriously tried to adapt his technique. When he has looked to curb his aggression he has looked awful...and been dismissed quickly. Even if he were to drop down the order he may still be exposed in Test match cricket by having to face another new ball. Good swing and fast bowlers will get him out for fun, even on flat pitches nowadays. I hope India persevere with the bravery shown recently. Prepare pitches that will help fast bowlers and don't be so dependent on winning the toss. Encourage the best batsmen to become what they should be: the best batsmen on ALL surfaces. For goodness sake, please don't use it as an excuse to explain why India lacks a world class spinner now.

  • Ashok on February 12, 2013, 19:53 GMT

    @Baiju Joseph: For the present squad, your suggestion of dropping Sehwag to the middle order is an excellent one. This would help in testing out Dhawan with Vijay or Rahane as opening pair. India badly needs a new opening pair. This is a golden chance to test it out. Sehwag would also reinforce the middle order with with an eye on future, assuming SRT will retire "soon"!.In addition it will also give Sehwag a chance to achieve his life long dream of middle order batting. However, Dhoni with his Tunnel vision, is set in his way. He does not want any changes to his batting order. He may not think that way unless the Mr. Srinivasan tells him to do so!. Rassol's fine bowling, 7 for 45 Vs. the Aussies in the first match, must be an eye opener for the Selectors.They have chosen this squad totally ignoring Ranji performances. Harbhajan has NOT got "a 7 for" in any match in past 2 years. Nadeem, the #1 spinner in the Ranji this year, is also on "ignored list". Why is the Indian bowling weak?

  • Sourabh on February 12, 2013, 17:16 GMT

    Good to see that finally the selectors have started to take some tough decisions. Dropping Gauti is justified. But how did Bhajji n Vijay make it to the squad is out of sense. Bhajji wasnt in the best of form during the Ranjis nor did he bowl spectacularly in the recently conclude Irani match. Same is the case of Vijay. He hadnt had good 2012-13 season. Still he got an opportunity to play in the Irani match - ahead of likes of J'Jyot n others. And to his 'luck', he managed to score some runs like he did just before the England series. To be frank, I feel that being from the president's team n state is benefitting him. Raina, despite being consistent, overlooked for the selection. Same is the case of Sandeep Sharma n also of C,Gautham.

  • beverly on February 12, 2013, 15:15 GMT

    "The Tendulkar question will hang heavy, but it will be .... unfair to leave the answer to him. Indian cricket owes him gratitude, but not the burden of a perpetual debt" (Sambit Bal,Dec. 18, 2012). I noticed an apparent deliberate strategy by all the cricket pundits not to mention Sachin Tendulkar's name, in any of their analytical assessments regarding the team that has been selected for the first two test matches against Australia. I noticed also, that they have all been very critical of all the other older non-performing members of the team, with good justification for their ommission, except Tendulkar. This apparent silence about Tendulkar tells me that it is a strategy to protect him once again; in that they don't want to mention his name to spark off the hectic campaign of people justifiably asking for his head also. They know that this would inevitably put him under pressure; and pressue is one thing they know he can't withstand. The selectors must heed Sambit Bal's wisdom.

  • Srisha on February 12, 2013, 13:46 GMT

    I tend to agree with Raj Sharma when he talks about Jaffer for Vijay and Mishra for Harbhajan. Even if Vijay succeeds in holding his place with some decent outings on Indian pitches, he would prove a disaster in South Africa. If this series against Oz is to be used to avoid a Rainbow wash, Jaffer is a far better bet - to a certain extent fill the void left by the classy Dravid. As for Harbhajan, clearly, he lacks confidence a strike bowler needs and again SA tour could potentially prove to be his last, if he makes it.

  • Dummy4 on February 12, 2013, 8:07 GMT

    Selection of vijay is an absolute should have been Jaffer instead...........My Team: Viru,Rahane,Pujara,Tendulkar,Kohli,Dhoni,Jadeja,Aswin,Bhuvi,Bhaji,Ishant>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

  • Dummy4 on February 12, 2013, 7:32 GMT

    If the general policy is to look towards the future and hence to drop Jaffer (not very fair after his excellect season), then Bhajji should have also been kept out. A good leggie like the seasoned campaigner Amit Mishra deserved to get a chance to have a go at the Aussies. Maybe he could have done the trick. He is resaonable good with the bat, too

  • DEEPAK on February 12, 2013, 5:57 GMT

    i would have picked Jaffer instead of M.Vijay. Jaffer was consistent in the entire season, wheras Vijay just played well in d last 3-4 matches. This is injustice to a player who is performimg consistantly.

  • Dummy4 on February 12, 2013, 5:36 GMT

    Ii think with 2 new openers selected, the time is ripe for Virender Sehwag to go down and take up the No. 5 position he has yearned for so long. Not only would it help Ajinkya Rahane to come into the squad but would also shield Sehwag from his new ball problems which in turn can make the middle order stronger with Kohli coming in at No 6. With Gambhir dropped I think its the right time to test Rahane and Dhawan pair for opening and give them a long rope. Both are technically sound and should be able to counter the Dale Steyn-Vernon Philander threat, team India would face later this year, to an extent.