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Rediff.com  » Cricket » New selectors put Team India openers on notice

New selectors put Team India openers on notice

November 05, 2012 18:36 IST

The message is loud and clear. The out-of-form duo of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have been put on notice after the selectors included Murali Vijay as reserve opener for the first two Tests against England.

The new selection panel, headed by Sandeep Patil, and comprising Roger Binny, Saba Karim, Rajinder Singh Hans and Vikram Rathour, met for the first time to pick the Indian team, in Mumbai on Monday, and, as expected, stuck with the tried and tested formula, perhaps, looking to give some under-fire players another chance.

- Figure out India's squad for the first two England Tests

Vijay's inclusion will serve as notice, more for Gambhir rather than Sehwag. The left-hander has hit just one half-century in his last 12 Test innings, including just 58 runs in three against New Zealand in August. His last hundred came way back in January 2010, when he scored 116 against minnows Bangladesh at Chittagong.

Sehwag's record is also not that great, with just one fifty in his last ten innings, when he scored 62 against Australia at Adelaide in January 2012. But his century for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy match against Uttar Pradesh, despite batting with an injury to his finger, will boost his confidence.

Gautam Gambhir and Virender SehwagVijay is the surprise pick, since he has not done enough to warrant a Test recall since being dropped from the side last year. He failed with the bat in his last nine Test innings, of which four were single digit scores. His Test career failed to take off. Since making his debut in November 2008, he has just 609 runs in 12 Tests, at an average of 30.45, with just one century, to his name.

His recent failures were ignored. He scored 15 for Tamil Nadu in the rain-curtailed match against Odisha, and in his two innings for India 'A' against England, in Mumbai, he got just seven and 32, but still got the nod.

S Badrinath , another Chennai player, wasn't so lucky. His case was quietly swept under the carpet. After VVS Laxman's sudden retirement from international cricket, Badrinath was called up for the two-Test series against New Zealand, but did not get a single game. Now, it looks unlikely that he will be called up again.

What is even more surprising is the selection of Ajinkya Rahane. He bats at No. 3 in domestic cricket, is in very good form and touted as being the next opener in Tests. With Cheteshwar Pujara having sealed the No. 3 slot after the retirement of Rahul Dravid, his only chance of making it to the first eleven was an opener. Now, that looks bleak.

Zaheer Khan gave the selectors some tense moments with minor fitness issues during Mumbai's Ranji Trophy match against Railways. But the veteran pacer cleared a late fitness at the Wankhede stadium on Monday and got the nod.

The absence of quality spinners at the domestic level meant Harbhajan Singh's return was imminent, while Yuvraj Singh did enough both with bat and ball to warrant a place at No. 6.

Harbhajan's last five-wicket haul in Tests was in January, against South Africa at Cape Town, when he took seven for 120 in 38 overs. But after that his form took a huge dip. Returns of just 13 wickets in ten innings, followed by injury during the England tour last year, meant he had to be axed.

He surely must be elated by inclusion in the Test side, as, following his selection, he took three late wickets in the second innings, after bowling as many as 44 overs, as Punjab's beat Hyderabad by an innings and 68 runs.

He goes into the England Tests as the highest wicket-taker on both sides -- an impressive tally of 406 in 98 Tests -- and certainly has a part to play.

Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, though, will go into the Tests low on confidence. He was taken apart by the Punjab batsmen as he registered woeful figures of two for 202 in 50 overs, with included just eight maidens. But, it must be said, he was excellent with the ball in the last Test series against New Zealand, during which he scalped 13 wickets in two Tests, at an average of 18.46. R Ashwin was the top wicket-taker in that series with a rich haul of 18 wickets, at an average of 13.11.

Ishant Sharma also did not inspire much in the first Ranji match for Delhi with four wickets for 97 in 30 overs. He too was off the radar in his last few matches at the Test level with 21 wickets in 18 innings.

With Zaheer's fitness looking shaky, he will have to be on his toes and ready to grasp any opportunity that comes his way.

The first Test begins in Ahmedabad on November 15, and, just like millions of Indians, the selectors too will be watching with bated breath. Have they made the right choices?

Harish Kotian