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March 25, 2010
On Friday, India's selectors will once again grapple with fitness issues just before another World Twenty20. MS Dhoni's return to captaining Chennai Super Kings on Thursday night was only one-third of the good news they are hoping for.
Immediately before Chennai's match, Gautam Gambhir and Ashish Nehra missed Delhi Daredevils' game in Bangalore, leaving the selectors with an almost identical dilemma as last year. Then, the selectors punted with taking still-recovering Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan to India's title defence. Sehwag didn't manage a single game, Zaheer was off colour, and it duly turned out to be a disastrous campaign.
Déjà vu doesn't come clearer. Only names have changed. Gautam Gambhir is as important a part of the batting line-up as Sehwag, and Nehra has been perhaps India's best fast bowler in limited-overs cricket over the last year. Therefore, it is tempting to take them both to the West Indies, and yet a huge risk considering they burnt their fingers with a similar choice for the same tournament a year ago.
If it is any consolation, Gambhir's comeback from his hamstring injury is shaping up well, and he is expected to play Delhi's next match, or the one after that. Nehra, who injured his rib in IPL warm-up, is uncertain. If the selectors don't pick Nehra, Karnataka's R Vinay Kumar, who has followed up a 46-wicket Ranji season with an impressive IPL so far, could be the surprise replacement.
Vinay is not the only Karnataka player who will be following the team news in anticipation. Manish Pandey is a strong contender for a batting berth after he led run-charts in the Ranji Trophy with his aggressive batting, and has also impressed in IPL. He has put Rohit Sharma's place in the Twenty20 side under pressure.
Ravindra Jadeja and Yusuf Pathan are likely to hold on to their places, thereby making it difficult for a second spinner to be included in the touring party. Given Dhoni is just coming out of injury, Dinesh Karthik is also likely to make the trip, although he has been decent even solely as a batsman in Twenty20.
Zaheer, Praveen Kumar and Harbhajan Singh are the certainties in the bowling department. If the selectors are assured that Nehra will recover in time, he will be a shoo-in too. At least two out of Vinay, Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth should be picked, if Nehra is not taken along.
Robin Uthappa's fireworks in the IPL, and Irfan Pathan's return to fitness, do make a case for considering players out of the 30 probables named, but sources indicate the selectors are not likely to go down that route. On a slight tangent, reports suggest that the BCCI is not happy with Gambhir and Nehra's visit to a Sri Lankan ayurvedic doctor without keeping the board in the loop. It is also likely to ask the IPL teams to go easy on the injured or recovering players, should they be picked for the World Twenty20.
Likely squad: Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (capt and wk), Manish Pandey/Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Yusuf Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, and two out of Ashish Nehra, Sreesanth, R Vinay Kumar, and Ishant Sharma