Zaheer Khan has been recalled to the India Test squad for the forthcoming tour of South Africa. Zaheer is one of five fast bowlers for the two-Test series, and the only newcomer to the 17-member squad is the batsman Ambati Rayudu. However, there was no place for the opener Gautam Gambhir, who scored a century for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy days before the selection meeting. It is learnt that the team management indicated to the selectors that they did not want Gambhir in the squad.
Zaheer, who last played for India during the home Tests against England last December, was recently omitted from the list of centrally contracted players for the current season. The injury-prone left-arm seamer made a return to the longer format this season with 13 wickets in three Ranji games for Mumbai, including a five-wicket haul. However, he was not considered for the one-day squad. Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh - two other players who were not handed central contracts - have been left out of both squads.
The Test squad also has Wriddhiman Saha as the backup wicketkeeper for MS Dhoni, the captain. Saha last played for India during the Adelaide Test of 2012. Ravindra Jadeja, the allrounder, returns after sitting out the West Indies Tests to rest his injured shoulder. He is the third spinner in the squad after R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha.
Rayudu, 28, made his international debut during the one-day tour of Zimbabwe in August, where he scored one fifty. Amit Mishra, the legspinner, remains in the one-day team but was not included for the Tests.
The surprise inclusion in the one-day squad is the fast bowler Ishant Sharma, who was expensive during the seven-match ODI series against Australia recently. Ishant leaked 189 runs in three matches and was dropped after he conceded a whopping 30 runs in one over, which cost India the Mohali ODI. Ishant was part of the Test squad against West Indies but lost his place to the impressive Mohammed Shami, playing his first Test series.
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Ishant and fast bowler Umesh Yadav were included in the one-day squad in place of seamers Jaydev Unadkat and Vinay Kumar. Batsman Ajinkya Rahane has been included in both squads.
Yadav said he was pleased with Zaheer's return to the Test squad, as the latter's experience was invaluable to the young pacers in the team.
"Zaheer has had a great influence on youngsters with his ability to guide us through the bump and grind of international cricket," Yadav told PTI. "I have got a lot of valuable tips on fast bowling and there is no better exponent of reverse swing than Zak. He is like a mentor to us and it is an honour to play international cricket alongside him. Zaheer's advice in match situations is invaluable as he is a brilliant reader of opposition batsmen."
The tour gets underway with the first of three ODIs starting December 5, followed by the two Tests.
Test squad: MS Dhoni (capt & wk), M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ravindra Jadeja, Zaheer Khan, Ambati Rayudu, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ishant Sharma, Pragyan Ojha
ODI squad: MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Yuvraj Singh, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ambati Rayudu, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Mohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra