India's selectors have picked Sourav Ganguly in a 15-man squad for the first two Tests against Australia. He is expected to join India A in Chennai for a Test against New Zealand A beginning on October 3 because he isn't part of the ongoing camp in Bangalore. There were also call-ups for Tamil Nadu batsman S Badrinath and Haryana legspinner Amit Mishra, who played three one-day internationals in 2003.
The squad consists of seven batsmen, one wicketkeeper, four fast bowlers and three spinners. The six batting slots are filled by Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Ganguly and VVS Laxman, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni as wicketkeeper. The two wicketkeepers used in Sri Lanka after Dhoni opted out, Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel, have been excluded.
Despite the intense speculation on Ganguly's future leading up to the selection meeting, the new selectors apparently felt that he had the three qualities essential for a series against Australia. "[He has] experience, character and resilience," said a national selector. "Besides, whatever his scores may have been in Sri Lanka, we could not ignore the fact that he has scored in the last 10 Tests."
Ganguly had reportedly considered quitting cricket after being overlooked for the Irani Cup match between the Rest of India and Delhi but India's new selection panel, headed by Kris Srikkanth, has valued his experience over youngsters like Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif.
Ganguly has struggled against Australia, averaging just 31.73 in 20 Tests compared to an overall average of 41.74 in 109 Tests. Since his recall in December 2006 and till the end of the home series against South Africa earlier this year, Ganguly scored 1571 runs at 50.67, including a maiden double-century. However, he managed only 96 runs in six innings during India's 2-1 series defeat in Sri Lanka this summer.
After being called in as a substitute fielder during the home series against Pakistan late last year, Badrinath had a spell in the cold till he was named as Tendulkar's replacement for the Sri Lanka ODIs, and played three games. Dhoni, his captain for the ODIs, publicly expressed his satisfaction at Badrinath's attitude during the series. He managed only 92 runs in the recent A team series against Australia and New Zealand and had a poor Irani Cup but the selectors have clearly indicated that he is the future.
"I am really happy to be selected to play against Australia," Badrinath said. "I was expecting this call. I will take tomorrow's match as serious practice. It will give me some experience against them."
Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma will lead the bowling attack along with Munaf Patel and RP Singh. Anil Kumble, India's captain, Harbhajan Singh and Mishra, 25, make up the spin quotient. Mishra, who has 289 first-class wickets at 25.21, had a fine domestic season (38 wickets in the Ranji Trophy) and has also staked a claim through his good IPL performances (11 wickets at 12.55).
Mishra, a neat and organised spinner, was included in India's Test squad to face West Indies in 2002 but did not get a game then. He subsequently made his ODI debut against South Africa in Dhaka in 2003 but fell out of national reckoning since. He has now pipped left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, who was in the Test side for Sri Lanka and played in the ODI series. Piyush Chawla, the Uttar Pradesh legspinner, was the other name doing the rounds but he too has been overlooked.
Mishra said his stint with the Delhi Daredevils in the IPL - during which he claimed a hat-trick against Deccan Chargers - transformed his career.
"It all started from the IPL. It gave me the platform to interact with greats like Shane Warne," Mishra said. "I specifically worked on my loop and top spin. I am very happy after hearing the news. I feel great as I've been expecting the call over the last year."
Before the selection meeting, the selectors were "briefed" by Shashank Manohar, the BCCI president. Manohar, apparently, delivered a "convincing and forceful talk" on the need to plan for the team's future, given that the senior players are on the last leg of their careers. He also reminded the selectors of the board's guidelines for the committee, including curbs on media assignments.
The first Test starts in Bangalore on October 9. The second is in Mohali from October 17-21. The squad for the remaining fixtures, in Delhi and Nagpur, will be named after the second Test.