Yuvraj Singh has been dropped for next month's Test series against Australia with Cheteshwar Pujara, the Saurashtra batsman who has been scoring heavily in domestic and other first-class cricket, replacing him. The selectors, who met in Chennai on Monday, made one more unexpected decision in dropping Karnataka seamer Abhimanyu Mithun, who impressed the team management in Sri Lanka in the absence of Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth.
Zaheer and Sreesanth both made comebacks from injury, along with Harbhajan Singh and Gautam Gambhir. All four missed India's series-levelling win at the P Sara Oval last month. Zaheer and Harbhajan were part of Mumbai Indians' unsuccessful campaign in the Champions League T20 in South Africa. Gambhir and Sreesanth began their return in the Corporate Trophy and will continue it in the three-day game between the Board President's XI and the Australians, starting September 25 in Chandigarh.
Kris Srikkanth, the chairman of selectors, said "everything - form, fitness" was considered while picking the squad. On Pujara's selection, he said, "He has done well in the last two domestic seasons, and on sheer weight of performance he has muscled his way in. All cricket - domestic, A tours, international - was given weightage."
It was indeed getting increasingly difficult to ignore Pujara, a run-machine in domestic cricket. He first caught headlines in 2006-07, when he scored 600 first-class runs at an average of 50. It was just the beginning of the Pujara story: he went on to pile up centuries in the next three first-class seasons, averaging 53.35, 65.56 and 82.33. The A tour of England earlier this year, when he scored an unbeaten double-century, perhaps sealed the deal. He will be playing the tour game against the Australians to try and convince the selectors they have made the right call.
Yuvraj, meanwhile, has been asked to lead the Rest of India side in the Irani Cup clash against Mumbai, which starts the same day as the first Test against Australia.
His last Test assignment summed up the kind of unfortunate year he has had. After being dropped for the Asia Cup, his first limited-overs axing since he became a regular in the early 2000s, he made a satisfactory comeback to the Test side in Sri Lanka. He scored a century in the tour game even as others struggled, and then went onto score a fifty in the first Test. Before the second Test, he came down with fever, and Suresh Raina made full use of the opportunity, scoring a match-saving century, and keeping the place for the final Test. From the sidelines, amid water-boy chants, he saw India level the series. The lacklustre tri-series that followed in Sri Lanka didn't help Yuvraj's case.
It is clear now that Raina is the preferred No. 6 batsman in the Indian line-up and, had Yuvraj been in the squad, there was a good chance he would be sitting out the first Test in Mohali. It is reliably learnt that the selectors agreed Yuvraj needed to spend more time in the middle rather than on the Indian bench, an experience that would be of greater benefit to a more inexperienced batsman like Pujara. Yuvraj's match practice will, they hope, turn his form around in time for the one-day series against Australia that follows the two Tests.
One selector said Yuvraj would be India's "trump card" at the World Cup and the team needed him to be at his best in February. It is not known whether any of the selectors, team management or captain Dhoni had informed Yuvraj about their plan in advance.
India squad MS Dhoni (capt. & wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Suresh Raina, Cheteshwar Pujara, M Vijay, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Pragyan Ojha, Sreesanth and Amit Mishra
Rest of India squad Yuvraj Singh (capt.), Abhinav Mukund, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, S Badrinath, Saurabh Tiwary, Parthiv Patel (wk), Piyush Chawla, R Ashwin, Jaydev Unadkat, Umesh Yadav, R Vinay Kumar, Manish Pandey, Abhimanyu Mithun and Ravindra Jadeja