Sourav Ganguly has been left out of the Rest of India squad for the Irani Trophy match in what Cricinfo has learnt is a signal from the national selectors that it is time to start phasing out India's veteran middle-order. Other notable exclusions for the season-opener are Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma and S Badrinath - but Mohammad Kaif has returned to the reckoning after his 94 for India A against Australia A.
The Rest team for the match against Delhi, which starts in Vadodara on September 24, is meant to feature probables for the Australia Test series in October. Ganguly's exclusion raises once again a question mark over his international future - he is already out of the ODI picture.
A national selector and a senior BCCI official whom Cricinfo spoke to said the selectors consulted Anil Kumble, the India Test captain, and Gary Kirsten, the national coach, before dropping Ganguly. Both Kumble and Kirsten were completely on board with the decision, they said.
One of the selectors also spoke to Ganguly about the decision and the former India captain has "accepted it", the selector said.
"The decision to drop Ganguly is a signal to the team," the selector said. "He's 36-37 and we felt it was getting increasingly tough for him to cope with the fielding and fitness levels expected at the international level. We spoke to Kumble and Kirsten too, and they were with us on this. We felt we should put in place the process of bringing in the next set of players."
While the decision to drop Ganguly was based on a dip in form and his diminishing fielding skills, they said, the selectors were not convinced that Yuvraj was completely fit.
However, both insisted that Ganguly's Test future could still be revived by the new national selection committee, which will pick the Test team for the four-Test series against Australia starting on October 9.
Apparently, the selectors are hoping that Mohammad Kaif, who impressed them with a well-made 94 in the India A vs Australia A match in Bangalore last week, will fill Ganguly's slot in the middle. "There is also a good chance for Badrinath (the India A skipper)," the selector said. "Badrinath came up with a convincing display in Sri Lanka last month and he is a fantastic fielder too. But again, it is up to the new selection panel."
He said that Yuvraj's fitness was the main reason why he was dropped - the left-hander has been dogged by a knee injury, and is also believed to be nursing a shoulder injury.
Meanwhile, Ashok Dinda, the Bengal medium-pacer, got a surprise call-up to the squad while Sachin Tendulkar, who declared himself fit for the match has made it along with Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. Parthiv Patel, the other promotion from the India A side, is likely to open the batting with Wasim Jaffer.
Badrinath, meanwhile, will continue leading India A side, in the limited-overs tri-series, involving Australia A and New Zealand A, starting on September 15. His deputy will be Suresh Raina, fresh from impressive showings in the Asia Cup and in Sri Lanka. Dinesh Karthik, who lost out on the Irani Trophy slot to Parthiv, will be India A's keeper in the tri-series.
There were rewards for those who did well in the inaugural IPL: Swapnil Asnodkar, Abhishek Nayar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Yusuf Pathan and Wriddhiman Saha found themselves in the 15-member squad. Hyderabad opener DB Ravi Teja was included, as was Saurashtra's Jaydev Shah. Irfan Pathan and Praveen Kumar, India's ODI regulars, will also play in the series, while Piyush Chawla and Robin Uthappa, dropped recently, get another chance to impress the selectors.
Rest of India squad: Anil Kumble (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Wasim Jaffer, Mohammad Kaif, Pragyan Ojha, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, Parthiv Patel, RP Singh, Ashok Dinda, Harbhajan Singh
India A squad for tri-series: S Badrinath(capt), Suresh Raina, Robin Uthappa, Swapnil Asnodkar, Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Abhishek Nayar, Irfan Pathan, Praveen Kumar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Piyush Chawla, Ravi Teja, Yusuf Pathan, Jaydev Shah, Wriddhiman Saha