Sourav Ganguly has ended his 10-month spell in the cold by returning to the Indian Test squad for the forthcoming three-Test series against South Africa. The national selectors, who picked the squad in New Delhi today, also named VVS Laxman to replace Virender Sehwag as the vice-captain of the Test side.
The others to join the team are Gautam Gambhir and VRV Singh. Those who will return home from the one-day series are Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Mongia and Ajit Agarkar. The selection committee, headed by Dilip Vengsarkar, decided to go in with five specialist fast bowlers, seven batsmen, two spinners and two wicketkeepers.
Gambhir won the battle for the third opener slot, ahead of his Delhi team-mate Aakash Chopra. Irfan Pathan has been persisted with and will join Munaf Patel, Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth and VRV Singh in the pace-bowling department.
Ganguly's return, first reported by Cricinfo on Tuesday, follows intense public debate at various levels, with federal ministers and members of Parliament joining the cricket fraternity in voicing their opinion. Significantly, Sharad Pawar, the president of the BCCI and also a federal minister, met Vengsarkar before this morning's selection committee meeting.
While announcing the team, Vengsarkar put the decision down to experience. "If you look at the performances in South Africa, our batting has failed. We need experienced players like Laxman and Ganguly."
Ganguly had a spectacular fall from grace, highlighted by a bitter and public dispute with coach Greg Chappell, during and after the tour of Zimbabwe last year. Asked whether the equation had bothered the selectors in taking this decision, Vengsarkar's response was pithy: "We have picked a team for India. Not for anybody else."
Ganguly's recall also points to the relative weakness of India's bench strength and Vengsarkar was emphatic on that front. "We don't have any bench strength," he said.
The big news apart from Ganguly's inclusion was Sehwag's replacement as vice-captain by Laxman. "Laxman has been named vice-captain because he has led various sides in domestic cricket in the past and also India-A teams," Vengsarkar said.
He made the point that this was also a message to Sehwag, whose form has dipped of late and whose commitment had come into question. "Nobody can take his position for granted", he said.
Vengsarkar was asked about Laxman's inclusion for the ODI series after he had commented that he was not fit for one-day cricket. "He would be available for only one ODI", Vengsarkar replied. "There is no question about Laxman's ability. It is only fitness but that can always be improved."
There were doubts over Pathan's inclusion in the Test squad but he probably settled it with his performance on Wednesday. Vengsarkar backed him to fire again soon. "Pathan bowled well the other day. He also batted well. You cannot just drop him like that. It will spoil his confidence. He is the player for the future, we are sure he will perform soon."
While India's bowlers have performed better than the batsmen in this series, there has been talk of the need for a bowling coach and Vengsarkar raised the point today. "We need a bowling coach. I have told Mr Pawar about it. I don't know who it will be, that's for the board to decide, but we need one."
In Kolkata, Ganguly also pointed to his experience coming in to play in a fragile batting line-up. "I am happy to be back. I have done well for 10 years and it's always a challenge playing international cricket," Ganguly told reporters. "Wickets will have a bit of bounce, so playing shots square of the wicket will be the key. I will take it one series at a time. I have the runs behind me, the experience in playing in South African conditions and will try to contribute with both bat and ball."
Asked about the current team's debacle in the one-dayers in South Africa, Ganguly refused to go into any particulars. " I am too far away to comment on them. We have played on bouncy pitches before, we have been successful, and I am sure as the tour goes on, the team will fire."
Indian Test squad
Virender Sehwag, Wasim Jaffer, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Dinesh Karthik (wk), Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman (vice-capt), Rahul Dravid (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Munaf Patel, Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth, VRV Singh, Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh.