Mumbai: Under-performing opener Gautam Gambhir was shown the door with Shikhar Dhawan being his surprise replacement in the 15-member Indian cricket squad, announced on Sunday for the first two Tests against Australia starting February 22 in Chennai.
Senior off-spinner Harbhajan Singh rode on past reputation to return to the squad to form a three-pronged spin attack also comprising R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha.
With Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav and Irfan Pathan recovering from injuries, the selectors opted to give rookie paceman Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who impressed in the limited overs-series against England and Pakistan, his maiden Test call.
The selection committee, headed by Sandeep Patil, deliberated for over two hours at the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai and made three changes to the squad that played against England in Nagpur in December.
The 32-year-old Harbhajan, who was dropped from the team after the lost third Test against England in November, has been brought back, keeping in mind his excellent record against Australia.
The off-spinner, who has 408 wickets in 99 Tests, is a proven performer against the Australians especially on the dustbowls at home and that reputation alone seems to have worked for him given that his domestic form this season has hardly been impressive.
On the other hand, the 31-year-old Gambhir, for whom a Test hundred has proved elusive for over three years now, became the biggest casualty of India's 1-2 home debacle against England last year. Gambhir will, however, lead India A in a practice match against Australia from February 16 to 18 in place of Dhawan.
Interestingly, Sehwag has also not been in the best of form and missed a chance to get some runs under his belt by skipping the Irani Cup tie due to a stomach bug. But the selectors have retained him with Murali Vijay and Dhawan being the other openers.
The 27-year-old Dhawan, set to be among the reserves, has been in good form in the domestic circuit, striking a hundred for Delhi in a warm-up match against England last year.
The 28-year-old Vijay, on the other hand, had cracked a century in the ongoing Irani Cup match against Mumbai.
Squad: MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Virender Sehwag, M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashok Dinda.