Indian squad for Australia November 15, 2003

Pathan in, Kartik out

Sadagoppan Ramesh - the outback awaits © AFP

Irfan Pathan, currently on Ranji Trophy duty for Baroda, was woken up in the dead of night with the news that he had found a place in the 16-man squad that embarks on a tour of Australia later this month. However, there was no place for Murali Kartik, as the think-tank elected to go with five pace bowlers and only two spinners, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.

The selection committee, led by Syed Kirmani, has given the team management an extra opening batting option by including Sadagoppan Ramesh, and there's also wicketkeeping back-up in the shape of Deep Dasgupta. Patel has been designated as first-choice keeper, but any serious gaffes in the warm-up matches could see the gloves handed over.

Ajit Agarkar and Zaheer Khan lead an inexperienced pace bowling attack that can only boast of 55 caps between them. Aavishkar Salvi and Irfan Pathan can look forward to making their Test debuts, if selected, against the strongest batting line-up in modern times.

The batting order more or less picks itself, though Ramesh will certainly push Akash Chopra hard for the opportunity to be Virender Sehwag's partner at the top of the order. Of the seven batsmen selected, Chopra and Sehwag are the only ones without experience of Australian conditions.

Despite plenty of speculation to the contrary, it was as you were in the slow bowling department. Harbhajan has never played in Australia, while Kumble's lone tour there - in 1999-2000 - ended with a paltry five wickets at a cost of 450 runs.

India have toured Australia seven times since 1947-48, winning just three Tests matches out of 28. Of those, only one came against a full-strength Australian side - a sobering figure that the select 16 would do well to forget as they set out on the hardest assignment that any cricketer can ever undertake.

Squad Sourav Ganguly (capt), Akash Chopra, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Parthiv Patel (wk), Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Ajit Agarkar, Sadagoppan Ramesh, Aavishkar Salvi, Deep Dasgupta (wk) and Irfan Pathan.

Comment: No real surprises, except for the inclusion of Pathan, whose 87 wickets in 29 first-class games is hardly the stuff of legend. L Balaji has been knocking over batsmen for fun in domestic cricket, but Pathan's potential to bowl quicker - allied to some sterling performances for the U-19 side - got him the nod.

Reputation, rather than form, was the criteria, when it came to picking the spinners. Kartik bowled quite beautifully when given limited opportunities in the TVS Cup, but the selectors plumped instead for a woefully out-of-sorts Harbhajan, and Kumble, whose overseas record won't have the Australians quaking in their size-12 boots.

Privately, they reckon they've worked out both men, and if proof is provided in Brisbane three weeks from now, India could be on a hiding to nothing. The pace bowlers will have to bowl out of their skins to trouble Australia's top seven, and this time, there will be no Javagal Srinath to look to for advice.

All in all, a pretty conservative selection, which goes to illustrate that world-class talent is a lot thinner on the ground than the team's cheerleaders would have you believe. Any smidgen of hope will rest on Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly piling up the runs. If that fails, even Santeria won't help...

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.