Bowlers give selectors headache ahead of Windies series
The selectors face a tricky task of striking up the right combination when they meet in Mumbai on Friday to pick India's Test squad for Sachin Tendulkar's farewell series against the West Indies next month.
While the focus of the series is Tendulkar, who will retire after completing 200 Tests, the selectors will be prompted to take stock of the bowling options and even look at a fit-again Zaheer Khan, who picked five wickets in Mumbai's Ranji Trophy opener against Haryana.
Zaheer, out of the team following injuries and fitness issues, last played a Test in December 2012, against England.
Image: Zaheer Khan and Sachin Tendulkar
Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters
Fit-again Zaheer could get the nod
But the 35-year-old left-arm pacer is in better shape now after undergoing a gruelling fitness regimen in France.
Zaheer's inclusion will provide a boost to India's pace department which is struggling in the ongoing ODI series against Australia.
Ishant Sharma looked far from impressive in the ODIs against Australia and is likely to get the boot, while Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, who opened the bowling with the lanky Delhi bowler, is lacking in pace.
With the South Africa tour at the back of their minds, Sandeep Patil and company will be tempted to include the highly-exprienced Zaheer along with the pace duo of Umesh Yadav and Shami Ahmed.
Asok Dinda, who was in the Test squad against Australia, is certain to be ignored.
Image: Zaheer Khan
Photographs: Hamish Blair/Getty Images
Harbhajan could make a comeback
Senior off-spinner Harbhajan Singh is also likely to be included in the squad, having been part of the 14-strong outfit in the final Test against Australia, along with R Ashwin, who hasn't done well in ODIs of late, but was man-of-the-series with 29 wickets in the four games against Australia.
Pragyan Ojha was part of the squad in the Test series against Australia but did not play a single game, as Ravindra Jadeja not only displaced him but also took 24 wickets in the four games, and it will be surprising if the former is also included instead of leggie Amit Mishra.
Image: Harbhajan Singh
Photographs: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Murali Vijay to get the nod ahead of Sehwag
On the batting front, Murali Vijay, the highest run-getter (430) among Indian batsmen in the last Test series against Australia in Febraury-March, has done precious little since then.
However, with senior challenger Virender Sehwag not in the best of touch, the selectors might have little choice but to include the Tamil Nadu batsman to launch the innings alongside Shikhar Dhawan.
The five wise men may also be tempted to include another discard, Gautam Gambhir, as the third opener.
Rohit Sharma, the talented Mumbai batsman, and his teammate Ajinkya Rahane are two others who could be tried out.
The former is opening in the ODIs and T20s for the country with Dhawan and in good nick.
Rahane, who made an unimpressive Test debut against Australia in the final Test at Delhi, has good experience of opening in first-class cricket, even though he played in the middle order in his lone appearance.
Image: Murali Vijay
Strong middle order
The selectors will have plenty to mull about the opening combination as the tough tour to South Africa, where the innings launchers will be tested severely by the Proteas pace attack, is also round the corner.
The remaining middle order batting slots are more or less fixed with Cheteshwar Pujara, ignored for the ODI series against the West Indies, set to make a comeback to the national team.
Tendulkar, who will play his 199th Test at Kolkata and landmark 200th at his home ground Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai and Virat Kohli will take the No 4 and 5 slots, while the No 6 slot may go to Rahane or Rohit, depending on the selectors' choice for the opening position.
Neither Suresh Raina, who was dropped after the two-match series against New Zealand in August 2012, nor ODI comeback man Yuvraj Singh looks likely to get the nod for the middle-order slots.
The first Test is from November 6-10 at the Eden Gardens, while the Wankhede stadium will host the second from November 14-18.
Image: Cheteshwar Pujara