India's selectors have picked their squads for the tour of New Zealand, with Dhawal Kulkarni, the Mumbai seamer, the surprise inclusion in the Test side. It caps an astonishing season for Kulkarni, who made his first-class debut six months ago and ended up the highest wicket-taker in the Ranji Trophy. L Balaji makes a return to the Test squad less than two weeks after being recalled to the one-day side.
Harbhajan Singh, who missed the one-day series in Sri Lanka, and Munaf Patel, who had to leave midway with an injury, also return to the squad. Dinesh Karthik has been named reserve keeper for the tour and features in the Test, one-day and Twenty20 squads. He was dropped after a poor Test series in Sri Lanka last year but has fought his way back via a strong domestic season with the bat.
The selection of the quicks for the Tests was always going to be the major issue for the selectors, and Kulkarni's selection was the only surprise. Less than two months ago, Kulkarni was not among the 36 players handed BCCI contracts; RP Singh and Sreesanth were on that list but aren't in the tour party.
Sreesanth was not fit when the contracts were handed out and RP ran into fitness problems later. While Sreesanth played three domestic first-class matches, taking 15 wickets, to prove his fitness, RP's fitness status remains unknown.
There's a clear indication the selectors have gone for bowlers who have turned out long, consistent spells over the last year, and not those whose potential hasn't translated into wickets. On that count, the selection of Balaji and Kulkarni selection - with 78 Ranji wickets between them - doesn't seem surprising.
Kulkarni said the call-up was not entirely unexpected. "Given my Ranji performance, where I was the highest wicket-taker (42 wickets), I did feel I could get picked," Kulkarni told Cricinfo. "Now I am up for whatever role offered to me." He will be valued both for his knowledge of New Zealand conditions - he toured with the India Under-19s in 2007 - as well as their personnel, having played the 'A' side last year.
M Vijay stays in the Test squad, the reward for an impressive Test debut against Australia on a day's notice. Apart from being the reserve opener, he might need to bat in the middle order if the need arises: neither Rohit Sharma nor S Badrinath have been picked. Which also raises the question, why such a hurry in naming the Test squad? What if Rohit finds form in the ODIs? Will India let go of a player who has acclimatised himself to alien conditions? If not, will they swell the squad to 17?
It remains to be seen whether Karthik has improved his wicketkeeping after two poor Tests in Sri Lanka last year, but his batting form is not in doubt. He scored 1026 runs at 64.12 in the just-concluded first-class season, none better than the 113-ball 153 against Central Zone, when his team was down at 86 for 6. If he does get to play, it could well be his last chance to prove he can hold a place on the strength of his keeping.
The one-day and Twenty20 sides are as expected, with Munaf taking back his place. It is heartening to see that Ravindra Jadeja, who impressed in his ODI debut, will get a taste of New Zealand conditions in the two Twenty20 internationals before flying back. Sachin Tendulkar, who has pulled out of the Twenty20s, will replace him for the ODIs.
Test squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, M Vijay, Amit Mishra, L Balaji, Dhawal Kulkarni, Dinesh Karthik (wk)
ODI squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk)
Twenty20 squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk)