Irfan and Uthappa under scrutiny
Current form and fitness will be the key criteria for India's selectors when they meet in Mumbai on Thursday to pick the squads for the one-day series against Sri Lanka, which begins later this month, and September's Champions Trophy. The meeting will also discuss the return of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the one-day captain who pulled out of the Sri Lanka Test series, and Yuvraj Singh, who was left out.
Cricinfo learnt that the players under scrutiny include Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan and Robin Uthappa. It's understood that indifferent form is the main reason why it could be touch-and-go for Irfan, who had also nursed an injury during the Asia Cup last month, and Uthappa, who has been a key figure in Dhoni's gameplan.
The selectors feel that Pathan's problem is his ineffective bowling on flat subcontinent pitches. He took only four wickets in three matches during the Kitply Cup in Bangladesh and, despite not being completely fit, played the Asia Cup in Pakistan where his three wickets cost 71 apiece. Pathan was subsequently omitted from the squad for the Sri Lanka Test series.
"Irfan is not being so influential and, in addition to his loss of pace, he is not even able to cut the ball and bowl well at death", one member of the selection panel said. It's a view which is shared by the other selectors too. If Irfan has any support it might come from Dhoni who has strong belief in the allrounder.
It's likely that Irfan will be competing against his brother Yusuf for a place in the squad. Yusuf made his ODI debut during the Kitply Cup and has played seven matches without a spectacular performance. His ability to score quickly and part-time offspin make him a direct competitor of Irfan.
Uthappa's case is equally weak, considering he's scored only one half-century in his last 20 innings. His loss is likely to work in favour of Suresh Raina, who was among the highest run-scorers in the Asia Cup. Raina made his comeback to the one-day squad for the CB Series in Australia but didn't play a game. He failed to make a significant score in the Kitply Cup but Dhoni's confidence in Raina paid off and he played a crucial part in India making the Asia Cup final.
The selectors are unlikely to make any drastic changes to the existing ODI squad unless forced to by injuries to players. It has also been learnt that Sreesanth's fitness report is not convincing and he continue his rehabilitation for a side strain.
Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan will also return to the squad. Tendulkar last ODI appearance was the CB Series final in Australia after which he played for the Mumbai Indians during the IPL before opting out of the Kitply and Asia Cups in order to recover from a groin injury. Zaheer, whose tour of Australia was cut short by a heel injury, has successfully recovered and is currently playing the Test series in Sri Lanka.
Considering the spinner-friendly pitches in Sri Lanka, the selectors are likely to consider Piyush Chawla as the third spinner in the squad in addition to Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha. However, Chawla is likely to miss out on Champions Trophy selection the squad will have only 14 members and Ojha's left-arm spin offers variety. The pace-attack will comprise Zaheer, Ishant Sharma, RP Singh and Praveen Kumar and the rest of the 15 will be made up by seven specialist batsmen.
Sri Lanka one-day series
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Yusuf Pathan/IrfanPathan, Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar, RP Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Piyush Chawla.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Yusuf Pathan/IrfanPathan, Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar, RP Singh, Pragyan Ojha.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo