One angry man leaves, another returns – the contrasting fortunes of Gambhir and Harbhajan

The Indian squad for the first two tests against Australia has been announced and apart from a couple of surprises, it was pretty much along expected lines. After a prolonged lean patch, Gautam Gambhir has been replaced with his Delhi team-mate Shikhar Dhawan, Ravi Jadeja has been retained ahead of Suresh Raina, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar earns a call-up and Harbhajan Singh returns after a one Test hiatus. Apart from Wasim Jaffer, no other player needs to feel aggrieved over his non-selection. This is possibly one of the better squads assembled by the Indian selection committee in recent times. Here are my thoughts on the selected 15:

The openers

Virender Sehwag, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan

It came as a surprise, albeit a pleasant one, to hear that Gautam Gambhir had been dropped from the Test side. This was long overdue and it’s hard to see this kind of decision being taken by the previous selection committee. Gambhir has trotted out all kinds of excuses and reasons as to why he should open for India in the long form, but his luck has finally run out. Without a century in nearly three years and with plenty of alternatives turning up, dropping him was the right choice. Hopefully, he will make a strong case for a return when he captains India A in their practice game against the Aussies.

Seeing the fate of his friend, Sehwag cannot rest easy. This should be motivation enough for him to raise his game. The message has been sent loud and clear by the selectors: Reputation doesn’t matter. Perform or perish.

Murali Vijay can be considered lucky to retain his place in the team, considering his poor Ranji season. Then again, his ability to come up with the big scores when the spotlight is turned on him, suggests that he has it in him to become a big-match player. This is an ideal opportunity to silence his detractors and prove that he belongs to this level.

Shikhar Dhawan is one of the consensus picks, in that I doubt his selection would have merited too much of a debate. He had a good season and it is time to see if he has what it takes to succeed at this level.

The middle order batsmen

Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni

Despite Kohli’s indifferent form of late, he is a certainty in the middle order along with Pujara and Tendulkar (who has warmed up nicely with a ton in the Irani trophy). That leaves the perennial battle for the number 6 slot between Rahane and Jadeja. Rahane is one of the best batsmen in the domestic circuit and has shown the capacity to rack up huge scores, but he is pitted against Jadeja, who himself is capable of compiling marathon knocks with the added bonus of bowling left arm spin (and we all know Dhoni’s favorite kind of player). Added to the fact that Rahane fits the mold of a top order player, coupled with his poor run against high quality bowling in the ODIs against England, we might just see Jadeja get another shot at Test cricket.

The spinners

Ravichandran Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan Singh

Ashwin and Ojha were always set to retain their place; but it was interesting to see that the selectors walked back their policy of having variety in spin options by dumping the leg spinner and opting for a second offie in Harbhajan. By this decision, they have opted to play their three best spinners; and it a fairly good choice. Harbhajan has shown glimpses of old in the Irani trophy and the sight of his favorite opponents might just awaken the “wicket-taker” in him.

The fast bowlers

Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar

Given the lack of options due to injury concerns to the first choice pacers, this is the best alternative. Ishant will lead the attack, but will have a debutant to share the new ball. Dinda has been on the sidelines for a while, and Kumar has enjoyed a rapid rise through the ranks, thanks to consistent performances in the limited over games. So who should partner Ishant? Its a tough choice but I see both of them get a game each before the next selection takes place.

My first choice XI:

Vijay, Sehwag, Pujara, Tendulkar, Kohli, Jadeja, Dhoni, Harbhajan, Bhuvneshwar, Ojha, Ishant

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