Sourav Ganguly's innings of 40 and 39 in the second Test against Sri Lanka at Delhi were not enough for him to retain his place in the Indian team for the third Test. The selectors, with one eye on the future and the other on addressing concerns over an opening slot, picked Wasim Jaffer in the squad for the third Test against Sri Lanka. The selectors reasoned that it would be unfair on Ganguly to select him in the squad and not play him in the XI.
Yuvraj Singh's unbeaten 77 in the second innings ensured that he could not be dropped from the squad. Once the decision was made to retain Yuvraj at No. 6, with Virender Sehwag recovering and returning to the XI, it was inevitable that Ganguly was dropped. Gautam Gambhir has been in bad form of late, repeatedly dismissed for low scores while attempting to play across the line early in his innings. In his last three innings he has registered scores of 0, 2 and 3. But he has been identified as one of the long-term prospects and the selectors decided to keep the faith.
Jaffer's inclusion is also a strong indication that the selectors will pick three specialist opening batsmen for the tour of Pakistan. There's a possibility that the team management may decide to give Gambhir a break in the third Test, and have a look at Jaffer, who has not played a Test since August 2002, when he made 0 and 5 against England at Trent Bridge. But by retaining Gambhir in the squad, the selectors have sent out a message that he is very much in the scheme of things, even if he is left out of the eleven for the third Test against Sri Lanka.
Jaffer has not set the world ablaze with his Test exploits, scoring 261 runs from 7 Tests, with a highest of 86. Then, his tendency to play half-cocked, or not getting fully forward, was exploited by bowlers at the highest level. But recently he has been in roaring form in domestic cricket. Not a month ago, he made 267 against Delhi, and is averaging 89 in the Ranji Trophy this year. In three Duleep Trophy matches, he has scored a century and two fifties, and isaveraging over 60. Interestingly, though he opens the batting for Mumbai, and has now been picked to the Indian team in that role, he batted at No.3 or No. 4 for West Zone.
The manner in which events unfolded soon after the Delhi Test left a few people stunned. "The selection committee decided to retain ..." began Niranjan Shah, and the packed hall expected a routine announcement, " ... Rahul Dravid as captain for the forthcoming series against Pakistan and England." Then came the announcement, deadpan as anything, that there was one change in the squad, with Jaffer replacing Ganguly.
"Yuvraj has performed outstandingly well in the one-day series and in this Test match here," said Kiran More, the chairman of selectors, soon after the selection meeting. "We did not want Sourav at No. 6 because Yuvraj will play there. He has been consistent and we want to give him more opportunities. It's not done to have Sourav in the squad and not have him in the playing eleven. We are also keeping the future in mind."
More added that this did not mean that Ganguly would not be considered for selection for India's forthcoming tour of Pakistan. "It's too early to say but the doors are definitely not closed on him."
Funnily enough, just moments before Shah made the announcement, Dravid had addressed the press, and praised Ganguly's batting in the Test, soon after attending the selection meeting, along with Greg Chappell, the coach. "He played very well in both innings," said Dravid. "I'm sure he'll be disappointed that he did not go on and make a bigger score." The selection meeting was a short one, lasting approximately 20 minutes..
Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Murali Kartik, RP Singh.