Ishant Sharma was lucky to get the nod for India's upcoming tour of South Africa, says Harish Kotian analysing the ODI and Test team selection.
Team India faces one of its most difficult assignments in recent times when it travels to South Africa next month. While it has proved its dominance at home by winning its last six Tests, playing away has always been a problem.
Yes, India's overseas record is awful, to say the least, having lost the last eight matches away from home, against England and South Africa.
With Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement, it was but natural that the selectors would fall back upon experience to guide a young squad in South Africa.
Thus, the national selectors went on expected lines by recalling veteran pacer Zaheer Khan to guide a relatively young and inexperienced pace attack for the two-Test series next month.
The injury-prone seamer was not included in BCCI's list of centrally contracted players for the ongoing season, but cricket aficionados knew it was a matter of time before he would return to the squad.
The selectors wisely refrained picking him for the Australia ODIs or West Indies series, preferring to gauge his fitness amidst the rigours of bowling long spells in Ranji Trophy cricket.
The 35-year-old left-armer, who has played 88 Tests, is five wickets short of 300 wickets, and the upcoming tour could well turn out to be his swansong in international cricket if he fails to deliver in South Africa.
While Ishant Sharma should consider himself lucky to be a part of the ODI and Test squads despite nightmarish performances in the ODI series against Australia, the young pace troika of Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav certainly merited places in the squads following impressive performances in recent international matches and should prove a handful in helpful conditions for pacers in South Africa.
Another senior pro Gautam Gambhir was not as lucky as Ishant, as the selectors ignored his good performances in domestic cricket. The Delhi batsman had made a strong case for selection with 372 runs in three Ranji Trophy matches, including a century against Haryana a few days ago, but it was not enough to snatch the third opener’s slot behind Shikar Dhawan and Murali Vijay.
With Rohit Sharma assured of a place in both the squads following a sensational run of big scores against Australia and the West Indies, the selection panel, under the chairmanship of Sandeep Patil, decided to try out Ambati Rayudu, who at 28, though, cannot be exactly called young.
Unlike Gambhir who is piling on the runs in the Ranji Trophy, the Baroda batsman has been rather inconsistent. He started off with two fifties against Uttar Pradesh and then suffered two failures against Railways in the Ranji Trophy this season. He also played in South Africa in August, when he turned out for India ‘A’ in the second unofficial Test, but failed in both the innings in Pretoria.
Wriddhiman Saha has been included as a back-up wicketkeeper for the Tests to cover up for any last minute emergency.
Talking about the ODI squad, Yuvraj Singh will consider himself lucky to miss the axe. He suffered four failures against Australia and had two poor matches against the West Indies in the ongoing series.
The 31-year-old’s major problem against the short deliveries was exposed by the Australian pacers and he is guaranteed to encounter a lot of chin music in South Africa.
The inclusion of Ajinkya Rahane in the ODI team is a welcome sign that the selectors are looking to him playing a major role in both formats, while Suresh Raina will need to covert his starts and remove all doubts hanging over him.
However, Cheteshwar Pujara could feel unhappy at not getting picked in the ODI squad. In places like South Africa, where the conditions are loaded in favour of the bowlers, you need a compact batsman like the Saurashtra batsman in the middle order.
While World and ICC Trophy champions India definitely start as favourites in the ODI series, it is the Tests that they will be looking at to make an impression. To come up trumps, their batting, more than the bowling, will need to come good.
They play three One-Day Internationals in Johannesburg (December 5), Durban (December 8) and Centurion (December 11), which will be followed by a two-day practice game in Benoni against the South African Invitation XI on December 14-15.
The Test matches will held in Johannesburg (December 18 to 22) and Durban (December 26 to 30).
Image: Zaheer Khan
Photograph: Stu Foster/Getty Images