Barren bowling stocks herald tricky selection
The Asia Cup champions would have barely reached their homes when they will be told on Saturday whether they are needed for the Tests in Sri Lanka, which begin on July 18. While the bowling attack looks massively uncertain except for Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, there is one middle-order place available in the XI and two more in the reserves.
It is going to be a tricky selection because only eight players select themselves. Only two of them are bowlers. Ashish Nehra doesn't trust his body enough to play in Tests, Munaf Patel seems to have been rejected, RP Singh's form has been ordinary, and Praveen Kumar is strictly a limited-overs bowler. That means India will most likely go back to Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth.
Amit Mishra is likely to join them in the bowling department. On their last tour to Sri Lanka, India played the two-seamers-two-spinners combination in all three Tests. So there is a possibility India might go with only three seamers and include Pragyan Ojha as the third spinner. The more orthodox approach would be to pick a fourth seamer, but not many have been showing promise. Lack of readymade choices means there could be a surprise or two.
Most of the batting choices seem easier by comparison. Virender Sehwag, who was advised 10 days' rest after he injured himself during the Asia Cup game against Pakistan, is expected to be picked. Rahul Dravid, who missed the South Africa Tests, will surely come back. Sehwag's injury, though, makes a case for the selection of M Vijay as a back-up opener who can bat in the middle order if required.
The other two spots will be contested by Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and S Badrinath. Dinesh Karthik, who can open, and also be a back-up wicketkeeper, could be a left-field choice. Karthik could also go solely as a reserve keeper in case India go for a 16-man touring party. His fifty in the Asia Cup final has done his chances no harm.
It was pretty clear that Yuvraj's drop from the ODI side had more to do with his fitness than his form (his statistics weren't all that bad if the IPL was ignored for a moment, admittedly difficult to do in India). It is for the selectors to decide if dropping him from one tournament has sent home the message. There is a possibility of reading too much into his Twitter message, "This elephant is back from injury and ready to rock!", which links to a photo of his with an elephant statue.
Raina, who was part of India's squad for their last Test, against South Africa, has reason to be hopeful. While his weakness against the short ball is obvious, it cannot be denied that he has been scoring consistently despite that awkwardness. A week after he played a nice cameo in perhaps the most high-pressure situation of his career could be just the right time to draft him in for the longest format.
Raina and Yuvraj will be competing with Badri, who played in India's last Test, and Rohit, who scored two centuries in Zimbabwe before doing a steady job in the Asia Cup. Cheteshwar Pujara, who scored a double-century in India A's tour of England and followed it up with another ton against Scotland a day before the selection, stands an outside chance.
Certainties: MS Dhoni (wk & capt.), Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan
Batting hopefuls: M Vijay, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, S Badrinath, Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik, Cheteshwar Pujara
Bowling hopefuls: Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth, Amit Mishra, Pragyan Ojha