India have left out Harbhajan Singh from the squad for the Test series in Australia, picking Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin as the spinners in the 17-man group. Medium-pacer Praveen Kumar, who was part of the team in England, returns to the squad in place of legspinner Rahul Sharma, who was part of the squad for the ongoing Test series against West Indies but did not play a match.
The squad comprised eight specialist batsmen, two wicketkeeper batsmen, five fast bowlers and two spinners. Wriddhiman Saha was named as reserve wicketkeeper, while Zaheer Khan, who is recovering from hamstring and ankle injuries, will join the team subject to match fitness.
"Zaheer will play in a couple of Ranji Trophy matches. And once he is fully match-fit and everything is fine, he will join the side," Kris Srikkanth, the chairman of India's selectors, said. "He may also go with the team as by the time [the team leaves] he would have played a couple of matches."
MS Dhoni, the India captain, said that Zaheer testing his fitness in a Ranji game for Mumbai against Orissa would be beneficial for both the player and the team. "He [Zaheer] gives his 100%. But if you have to undergo rehab it has to be done really well," Dhoni said. "We are hoping that he is 100% fit for the Australia series. Once he plays a first-class game that will help judge to some extent the way he feels."
Zaheer bowled to the Indian batsmen in the lead up to the third Test against West Indies at the Wankhede and Dhoni said he "looked quite fit."
Harbhajan's omission was a result of left-arm spinner Ojha and offspinner Ashwin produced compelling performances in the Test series against West Indies. Ashwin was the series' highest wicket-taker with 22 scalps at 22.90 apiece, while Ojha took 20 at 22.50. Ashwin also scored his maiden international century in the third Test at the Wankhede.
"Unfortunately, we cannot help it [not picking Harbhajan] as the team selects itself," Srikkanth said. "In Australia, you cannot have more than two spinners. Pragyan Ojha and Ashwin are doing an excellent job. Sometimes it becomes bad luck and sometimes people miss out. I'm sure everyone has their own time and space to come back."
Harbhajan had been dropped from the squad for the West Indies series after a poor performance in England, where he took only two wickets in two Tests before an abdominal-muscle injury forced him to return home. He failed to perform in the Ranji Trophy as well, managing only two wickets at an average of 102 in three matches as captain of Punjab. On India's previous tour to Australia, in 2007-08, Harbhajan had a tally of eight wickets in three Tests at 61.25. He conceded over 100 runs in an innings three times in that series.
Yuvraj Singh, who will miss the upcoming ODI series against West Indies because of a lung problem, and Suresh Raina, were also not in not in the team.
"We have chosen a very balanced side. We have taken everything into account, including fitness and Australian conditions," Srikkanth said. "If you ask me today whether this team can beat Australia in Australia, I would say I'm very confident. We should beat Australia in Australia in a Test series.
"Our batsman are in form, our bowlers are in form. And now we have all kinds of bowlers. We have fast bowlers, medium-fast bowlers, we have swing bowlers, spinners - left-arm and offspin," Srikkanth said. "So depending on the conditions there the team management will select the team on a match-to-match basis."
Squad: MS Dhoni (capt &wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Virat Kohli, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Rohit Sharma, Pragyan Ojha, Praveen Kumar, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha, Zaheer Khan (subject to fitness).