S Badrinath and Abhimanyu Mithun in India squad
S Badrinath, the Tamil Nadu batsman, was virtually assured of a Test debut after he was one of only six specialist batsmen named in the 15-man squad for the first Test against South Africa. During their tour of Bangladesh, India lost Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh to injuries, but the selectors named just one batting replacement. The squad also featured Karnataka fast bowler Abhimanyu Mithun as replacement for the injured Sreesanth, and Bengal wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha for Dinesh Karthik, dropped presumably for his irresponsible shot and a duck in the Chittagong Test. VVS Laxman, who injured his hand while going for a slip catch in Chittagong, was deemed fit.
"I have been waiting for this chance for a long time and was really looking forward to it," Badrinath told PTI. "I am not under any pressure when it comes to playing either Test or short versions of the game. I am well experienced to handle the different formats of the game.
"I always remain positive. I am geared up to sort out any situations against any attack and will try to be totally fit, both physically and mentally. I'm trying to maintain my form and grab the opportunity in a challenging series."
Saha, who had played for India Under-19 and India A teams earlier, but never the senior team, was elated by his selection. "It is a fantastic feeling," he said. "I knew that the team selection was today, but I clearly didn't expect to be picked. It's a dream come true. If I get the opportunity [to play], I will try and make full use of the chance.
"After Sourav Ganguly, several players from Bengal had got a look-in for the Indian team, but they could not cement their places. But I will try to perform well to stay there as long as I can."
However, the long injury list meant the selectors picked the squad only for the first Test, which begins in Nagpur on February 6. They will reassess the fitness of players and the performance of the replacements before naming the side for the second Test. A BCCI release, however, all but ruled out Dravid and Yuvraj of the second Test as well. Dravid, who fractured his cheekbone after getting hit by a Shahadat Hossain bouncer in Mirpur, was advised three weeks' rest, the release said. It also said that Yuvraj was out for the whole series. Kris Srikkanth, the chairman of selectors, though, said they would reassess the injury status after the first Test.
"Dravid was very keen to play but the doctors have advised him rest as a precautionary measure," Srikkanth said. "We have selected the best possible team considering the number of injuries that the Indian team have suffered in the recent series.
"The team has been selected just for the first Test. We will take a call on the team for the second Test after getting the fitness report of the injured players."
Saha's selection, ahead of Karthik, was prompted by the back problems MS Dhoni has suffered of late. Saha was signed up by Kolkata Knight Riders in the inaugural edition of the IPL, and managed 318 runs in five games at 39.75 in 2009-10 Ranji season. "Dhoni had a few niggles during the Bangladesh tour and had even missed the first Test. Even in the ODIs he had a few problems with his fitness, so we have included Wriddhiman Saha as a back up. If in the morning of the match, Dhoni is unavailable, we will have Saha as a replacement," Srikkanth said.
Sreesanth, who picked up a hamstring injury in Chittagong and missed the Mirpur Test, was recovering at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. "I am recovering well and thought I would be fit enough for the full series against South Africa," he told the Hindu, a day before the selection. "But it seems to be taking a little more time and I should be good enough for the second Test and one-dayers." Mithun, his replacement, was rewarded for a sensational debut Ranji season, during which he took a hat-trick in his first match, led Karnataka to the final, and ended as the leading wicket-taker, scalping 47 at 23.23 apiece. "He has done extremely well in the domestic season and we really needed a fast bowler for the Tests, so we have included him," Srikkanth said of Mithun's inclusion.
The Indian selectors also named a squad for Board President's XI's two-day match against the South Africans in Nagpur. Rohit Sharma was appointed captain while Mithun was also part of that squad in order to give him a look-in ahead of the Test. The big omission from the list of 14 was Wasim Jaffer, who scored 638 Ranji Trophy runs at 53.16 this season. It was a clear message that the selectors wanted to invest in youth for these tour games, and not bring back players who have been tested at the top before. Abhishek Nayar, at 26 years, was the oldest player in the side.
India squad for first Test: MS Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, S Badrinath, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Amit Mishra, Pragyan Ojha, Ishant Sharma, M Vijay, Sudeep Tyagi, Abhimanyu Mithun, Wriddhiman Saha.
Board President's XI: Abhinav Mukund, Parthiv Patel (wk), Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma (capt), Manish Pandey, Cheteshwar Pujara, Abhishek Nayar, Piyush Chawla, R Ashwin, R Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, Shikhar Dhawan, Umesh Yadav, Manpreet Gony.