But for the needless recall of Harbhajan Singh, the Indian team for the first two Tests against England is along predictable lines. There is a certain method in the selection in that Sandeep Patil and his team have picked one extra player for each of the four slots – opening batsman, middle order, spin bowling and pace bowling.
Clearly a strong message has been sent across to Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir in the selection of Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane who can also double up as an opening batsman while Shikar Dhawan is also waiting in the wings. The well established duo has an excellent overall record but of late their form has dipped alarmingly.
Vijay might not have covered himself with glory in the few opportunites he has received at the Test level but it is good to see that form in domestic cricket has been rewarded. Vijay has come up with a century and a double century in the last month or so and this can do wonders for a player’s confidence.
In any case Gambhir and Sehwag cannot afford to be smug about their places at the top of the order. But instead of feeling any pressure the two should take it as a challenge that could spur them on to yet another century partnership.
The return of Yuvraj Singh was always on the cards given the fact that he had recovered physically and mentally something underlined by his double hundred in the Duleep Trophy. He certainly has better credentials than Suresh Raina as far as cricket’s traditional format is concerned and I was taken aback by the debate in the run-up to the selection as to who among the two left handers would find a place.
Raina in fact has been omitted from the squad itself and though he is a match winner in limited overs cricket his record in Test cricket is patchy.
The middle order with Yuvraj, Sachin Tendulkar, Cheteswar Pujara and Virat Kohli looks strong enough to hold their own against the England attack. The selectors have made it clear that Rahane is the first choice among the reserves for the middle order and given his prodigious talent and ideal temperament it is only a matter of time before he makes it to the playing eleven.
It is also good to know that Manoj Tiwari and Rohit Sharma are also around.
Whereas the choice of batsmen was always going to be predictable, more interest centered around the bowlers. There are any number of contenders for the pace bowler’s slots but the first three were always bound to be Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma.
That’s how the selectors too have seen it though these days there are perennial question marks over Zaheer’s fitness. Now that he has been picked one assumes he is fully fit and provided he can bowl his full quota of overs there is every reason to believe that he can still be hostile and penetrative though to be candid he is in the twilight of his career.
The first two choices for the spinner’s slots were always going to be Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha given their marvelous record in tandem and particularly at home. But there was considerable interest in the choice of third spinner. Again there are any number of candidates in Amit Mishra, Rahul Sharma and Piyush Chawla.
By falling back on Harbhajan, the selectors have obviously felt that the younger trio is not good enough. On the other hand the recall of Harbhajan could also be regarded as a retrograde step. After all there is very little that Harbhajan has done in the past year to warrant a comeback and under the circumstances it is always better to look ahead and have a long term view.
In any case I feel the selectors have missed out on a trick by not picking a leg spinner. The opponents being England a leg spinner should always be deployed just as India almost always takes the field against Australia with an off spinner – or perhaps even two. One has only to look at the past record of Indian leg spinners against England particularly in this country to be aware of the havoc they have caused.
Over the past half century bowlers like Subash Gupte, Chandu Borde, BS Chandrasekhar, L Sivaramakrishnan and Anil Kumble have troubled English batsmen while being the country’s trump card. Any one of Mishra, Chawla or Rahul Sharma should have been picked.
And if the selectors were of the view that the first two have been tried without much success then they could have gone in for the younger man. Rahul Sharma would have been an uknown quantity, a surprise package for the tourists just as Chandra and Siva were in their time. It is worth recalling that even during the last series here four years ago Mishra in the two Tests took six wickets.