Come Sunday, the National selection committee is to meet in Chennai to choose the Indian squad for the tri-series in Sri Lanka and the Champions Trophy in South Africa. The two tournaments will unveil a new season for Indian cricketers who will be coming out of a long summer break.
The two big developments, besides the WADA issue, have been the recall of Dravid (at least he is in the 30-member probables list) and the non-availability of Zaheer Khan owing to a shoulder injury and consequent surgery/recuperation.
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Those in the know of selection politics are holding the cards close to the chest, but I am sure of Dravid's selection to the squad for both the tournaments. Anything else will be a travesty and a huge humiliation to the ''Wal''. I doubt the selectors would stoop to such low levels of first inviting an iconic player and then ignoring him.
I cannot visualise any drastic changes in the squad that beat the West Indies in the totally inconsequential series in the Caribbean within days after the Indians were bundled out of the T20 World Cup in England earlier this summer. The return of Tendulkar and Dravid would obviously mean ejection of two of the three specialist batsmen who toured the Windies, but yet to cement their berths - Abhishek Nayar, Murali Vijay and Badrinath.
Of the trio, Badrinath deserves to be retained following his wonderful leadership of the A team that won the Emerging Players tournament in Australia last month. Badri has enjoyed a successful season and last year, he was part of the team that toured Sri Lanka, but had limited opportunities in the three games that he played. There can be little debate over Badri's utility as a middle-order batsman and a thinking player.
There is a question mark over Sehwag's total recovery from a shoulder injury that ruled him out of the T20 World Cup with Dinesh Karthik replacing him. If Sehwag is available, then he would be one of the several ''automatic'' choices.
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The selectors would need to exercise their judgment with regard to the bowling line-up while keeping in mind the overall balance. While the pitches in Sri Lanka would be no different from those in India, it would be a different ball game in South Africa where disconcerting bounce and movement exposed a majority of our players during the IPL this summer. Dravid's recall is directly linked to the conditions expected in South Africa and this is no rocket science.
I would reckon that the selectors would be tempted to include only two specialist spinners with Harbhajan being the first choice, and possibly either Mishra or Ojha or Jadeja, though Ashwin might still make the squad if chairman Srikkanth has his way.
My list will be: Batsmen - Dhoni, Tendulkar, Sehwag, Yuvraj, Gambhir, Dravid, Badrinath, Rohit Sharma, Raina, Yusuf Pathan. Bowlers â Ishant, RP Singh, Praveen Kumar, Nehra/Munaf, Harbhajan Singh, Mishra. In all, six bowlers and 10 batsmen, presuming it is a 16-member squad.
At first glance, the squad might appear a tad short in bowling, but given the fact that Yuvraj and Yusuf, besides Sehwag are no bunnies with the ball, Dhoni will not be lacking options. The point is that in the playing eleven, the trend has been seven batsmen and four bowlers. Thus, it makes little sense in carrying excess baggage by dropping a batsman or two in favour of bowlers.
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Ahead of the selection, one can only speculate since if were to go by the track record, the selectors are quite capable of springing a surprise or two. After all, historically, Indian cricket selections have been always tinged with a regional bias and lobbying, much as the authorities might deny. There have been enough instances in the past of certain players gaining a backdoor entry with the selectors bowing to various pulls and pressure that go with the territory. If anyone thinks otherwise, then the person was born yesterday!