Harbhajan returns for Pakistan Tests
Harbhajan Singh has been recalled to the Test squad for the first two matches of the three-Test series against Pakistan, but there is no place for Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag or Irfan Pathan. The 14-member line-up has three spinners - Murali Kartik has been included after his impressive performances in the ODIs against Australia and Pakistan - but Ramesh Powar has been omitted.
The squad was named after a two-and-a-half-hour meeting at the BCCI Centre, which was attended by the national selection panel along with the convenor of selectors, Niranjan Shah, and Anil Kumble, the new Test captain. There were no surprises, as the panel decided to go largely with the players who had won the series in England - those who have missed out from that squad are Gambhir, Powar, Ranadeb Bose and Ishant Sharma.
The last time Harbhajan had been paired with Kumble was in the final two Tests of the West Indies tour in 2006 while Kartik, only eight Tests old, played against South Africa in the 2004-05 home series. He had performed modestly on the domestic circuit and was a surprise inclusion midway into the one-day series against Australia earlier this season. But Kartik, who had a successful stint at Middlesex earlier in the summer, turned out to be India's trump card, finishing with the best average and economy rate among the Indian bowlers.
Harbhajan had flourished with Surrey on the English county circuit and put in a strong performance at the ICC World Twenty20. That earned him a place in the ODI squad, and he continued that good work against Australia and Pakistan.
The last time India played three spinners - Kumble, Harbhajan and debutant Piyush Chawla - in the same Test was in Mohali against England in 2005-06, a match India won by nine wickets. Since the squad announced today is only for the first two Tests - in Delhi and Kolkata, where the wickets and the cold weather are likely to be more conducive to the fast bowlers - a reprise of the spin trio is unlikely.
India utilised the five-bowler theory - three fast and two spinners - in their last two home Tests. In that mix, though, was Pathan, who played as a bowling allrounder. On the eve of the selection meeting speculation was rife that Pathan would make it ahead of Laxman. The selectors, though, decided to stick with Laxman, who, though not in prime form, has given solidity to the middle order. Moreover, Pathan's successes have largely been in the limited-overs format, where his clever variations with pace have been more impressive than his ability to swing the ball. In his absence, India are likely to go in with four bowlers.
Gambhir, who didn't play the Tests in England, will have to bide his time as the Wasim Jaffer-Dinesh Karthik combination has worked splendidly so far: ten innings, 650 runs at an average of 72.22, including three century stands, was enough for the selectors to retain the pair.
Even though the squad didn't throw up controversial choices, the panel played it safe and refused to address the media, instead only handing out a press release with the names. When asked about the decision to name only 14 players instead of the expected 15, one of the selectors said the idea was to give the players maximum opportunity to play in the premier domestic competition.
India squad for first two Tests
1 Dinesh Karthik, 2 Wasim Jaffer, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Sourav Ganguly, 6 VVS Laxman, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Anil Kumble (capt), 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Sreesanth, 12 Yuvraj Singh, 13 RP Singh, 14 Murali Kartik.