With two days to go for the first India-England Test Match at Ahmedabad (the first leg of a series that goes well into the New Year), let us take a look at the Indian Test Squad selected by the wise old panel headed by Sandeep Patil for the first two test matches. While there are some surprises, on the whole, Patil and Co. have kept a keen eye on domestic form- selecting a team with the T20 and One-day series in mind too.
The First Supper
The Delhi dasher has been subject to immense criticism over the last few months- more so due to his lack of Test centuries (0) for more than two years. His away form has been questionable, but the panel cannot seem to look beyond the Delhi-duo (with an average of 53, mind you) for the Home Test season. This makes sense, with the duo averaging above 60 in India- but this could also be the final straw for Sehwag, who relies on one massive score every year to retain his place.
Another struggling Delhi Test opener, another stellar show in faith by the selectors. While Gambhir looks even more reluctant to score runs than Sehwag at the crease lately, he possesses an immense amount of grit and stubbornness to overcome his errors- demonstrated only once this year, during the IPL for his KKR team. After a decent 2011, Gambhir’s problem lies where Sehwag’s doesn’t- he refuses to convert 50s into 100s and 100s into 200s. At Home, on flat pitches, this could be his big chance.
Want to see a magic trick, Suresh?
The shining light of Indian Cricket. This India-England Test series, a battle between the former no. 1s, could be the perfect test for a marauding Kohli- after he missed out (fortunately) on the 4-0 mauling back in England last year. He will be out to prove a final point against the likes of Broad, Finn, Anderson and Swann.
The ‘form that we must not speak of’ has entered its final stretch- a Home season designed to bring the mighty back from their graves. While Dravid and Laxman must be itching to get cracking on the Ahmedabad pitch, Tendulkar enters this series with question marks against his technical ability- quite ridiculous after 22 years in the game. But he is going through the same patch Ponting went through last year, and this England series could very well define his near future.
India’s new no. 3 made merry against a weak NZ bowling lineup earlier this year, but he faces a whole new test altogether against a hurt English team. He has repeatedly proved himself in Home conditions, so this series could work well towards his advantage, and he could secure this position for years to come. As long as he stays away from the ODI and T20 formats of the game, this could mean good things for the Indian Test future.
No Salt, No Pepper.
The comeback man of Indian Sport. After securing a well-deserved T20 spot back into the team, Singh has done the unthinkable by securing a Test Spot- something he couldn’t manage pre-Cancer. His 208 in the Duleep trophy game turned the selectors against Raina, which can only be a great thing for this Test Team. He will look to carry on his crunching form against a pace-heavy England attack, and secure his place in Whites after 12 years at the top in Blue.
Captain, not Cool. Yet to prove Test credentials after a barren 1.5 years- an entire different batsman in Whites. His captaincy could also be under the scanner this time. One more mistake in this format could mean that the selectors might notice his Test average over the last 2 years.
A reward for a great IPL tournament and a stellar domestic season, Rahane has been picked as a reserve middle-order bat this time, and not as a reserve opener like the last two tours. He may need a fair bit of luck to break into this team, but the waiting list is fast dwindling into RAC- with atleast two spots open for contention over the next 2 tours.
A surprise pick as a reserve-opener, he has been rewarded after a brilliant 266 in the Duleep trophy game. He has been piling up scores for Tamil Nadu after a disastrous Test tour of West Indies last year (where he averaged 11). A false note by Sehwag or Gambhir for two consecutive tests, and we might see Vijay back in it for the third test.
India’s best spinning bet currently- and a very handy no. 7 batsman. His batting ability has kept Raina and Pathan out of the squad, as it provides the Test team with an extra option. A test centurion and a Home-specialist bowler a la Kumble, Ashwin will look to seal his usefulness by outperforming Swann.
The second half of India’s new spin-twin duo, Ojha has done considerably well against weaker sides touring India, and has kept his spot in a team that relies heavily on tweakers to terrorize opponents. He sets things up for Ashwin, and their partnership could be crucial in this ‘revenge’ series.
India’s fastest bowler returns after a long rest period, and might need to put everything he has got into this series to extract any sort of juice from these pitches. He is known to be a workhorse, but he will need to bowl smartly against a very handy England batting lineup. Extra effort may be due with Zaheer once again struggling with his fitness.
Makes his comeback after a horrendous Australian series earlier this year. Missed IPL 2012, and had an up-and-down domestic season. Will need to turn back the clock to 2008 if he has to remain in this squad as a frontline pace bowler.
The Sachin Tendulkar of Indian bowling is following the batting maestro into retirement, with a less-than-inspiring period after winning the World Cup last year. Not much left in the tank, and he remains a threat with the old ball. Only a matter of time before he ditches his run-up altogether.
The ultimate leap of faith by the selectors, this move has been taken to assure Harbhajan that he is not yet the forgotten man of Indian cricket. He has done precious little to secure this spot, and he may not play a Test this series with Yuvraj providing an extra left-arm option, but this could be a farewell package tour for the economical spinner- who, to his credit, has not given up yet.
While far from ideal, this could be the team that blanks England out in yet another subcontinental Test series. A loss of a single test could set the alarm bells ringing again, though.