India news August 9, 2012

Pujara, Rohit likely for New Zealand Tests

Rahul Dravid's retirement earlier this year has spared the current selection committee major headaches as they sit together to pick their last Test team before the end of their term. After the eight straight losses overseas, the demand for change and youth was natural, but the vacancy created by Dravid's retirement will allow them to pick three new batsmen for the New Zealand series without having to make a tough call. Tough calls will be left for the team management who will prune the 15 to 11 on the eve of the first Test, which begins on August 23.

Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are likely to continue as the preferred openers, VVS Laxman is almost certain to retain his middle-order place, and Cheteshwar Pujara will be the only addition to the batting group that toured Australia. Rohit Sharma, who was the next man in should India have made changes in Australia, is likely to retain his Test slot despite a desperately disappointing limited-overs tour of Sri Lanka. The selection of the XI is some way off, but Pujara's return from injury and his mature knocks on tough West Indies pitches during the A tour might have pushed him ahead of Rohit and Ajinkya Rahane in the pecking order. As expected, Sachin Tendulkar will make his return to international cricket after he last played in the Asia Cup in March.

R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, who formed a successful spin duo in home Tests against West Indies last year, are likely to be backed up by Rahul Sharma in the reserves. Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav will be the two first-choice quicks. Ishant Sharma, recovering from an ankle injury, is not expected to pass fit, which means Ashok Dinda might find a place in the reserves.

Although the BCCI's release didn't say so, the selectors are also likely to discuss the squad for next month's World Twenty20. They might or might not make the announcement tomorrow, but this is likely to be a more complex discussion. For starters, they will have to take a call on the emotional favourite Yuvraj Singh's return after his recovery from a rare germ-cell cancer. Yuvraj has been training in Bangalore, but is yet to test his match fitness, so he remains a long shot if only because of the risk involved and the magnitude of the tournament.

There is room for discussing various combinations in the Twenty20 squad, especially in the bowling department. They could look at other T20 specialists, but the 15 who played in Sri Lanka start off as favourites for retention.

Likely Test squad: MS Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav, Pragyan Ojha, Rahul Sharma, Ashok Dinda

Likely T20 squad: MS Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Manoj Tiwary, Irfan Pathan, R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav, Pragyan Ojha, Rahul Sharma, Ashok Dinda

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo