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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Testing time ahead for senior players

Except for Mahendra Singh Dhoni's shock pull-out, there are no major surprises in the 16-man Indian squad for the forthcoming three-Test series against Sri Lanka .
The Indian selectors had no choice but to bring back the 'Fab Four' -- Sachin Tendulkar , Rahul Dravid Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. But, except for Tendulkar, the rest have been dumped from the limited-overs' side and many believe it won't be long before they are phased out from the Test side too.
However, for now, they continue to survive, fully aware that a failed series could virtually signal the end of their international careers.
After all the hype and thrills of the IPL, and the charisma of the young Indian team, it is back to the more traditional format. The seniors are back, the whites are back, the red cherry will finally be back from hibernation and so will be five days of non-stop cricket. It is interesting to see how the sub-continent fans take up to Test cricket after the IPL. The one-dayers in Bangladesh and Asia Cup in Pakistan did not generate much interest and it remains to be seen whether Twenty20 has also made a dent on Test cricket.
Making the selectors' intent clear was the inclusion of Mumbai youngster Rohit Sharma. The 21-year-old struggled in the last two ODI series (Bangladesh tri-series and Asia Cup), scoring just one half-century in nine innings, but showed enough promise to be worthy of a place in the Test side. Should there be an injury or two to the seniors, Sharma will no doubt be looking to make most of this opportunity. Getting picked ahead of Yuvraj Singh should be a huge confidence-booster for the right-hander.
Gautam Gambhir also makes a comeback to the Test side after a string of impressive performances in ODI and Twenty20 matches for India. The left-hander was the leading run-scorer in the CB tri-series in Australia, with 440 runs, and then took charge in the IPL, aggregating 534 runs and finishing second behind Australia's Shaun Marsh He is the highest run-scorer in one-dayers in 2008, with 908 runs in 19 matches, and it was only fair that he was picked ahead of the inconsistent Wasim Jaffer.
Talking of the seniors, Ganguly will again not only need to prove his worth in the side but also his fitness. He hit two half-centuries in his last two Tests, against South Africa, but an inconsistent run before that will not make it easy for him. But, like all the other Indian batsmen, he will be looking forward to feasting on the batting beauties you mostly encounter in Sri Lanka.
Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh will, as usual, chore up the spin department. But an interesting selection here is the addition of uncapped Hyderabad left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, who impressed during the Asia Cup with encouraging performances. The 21-year-old played three matches in Pakistan, claiming three wickets with an economy rate of 4.53, despite bowling on the flat wickets in Karachi. His selection means there is no room for Piyush Chawla who for a couple of years now had been groomed as a replacement for Kumble.
Dhoni's absence means that Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel have got another lifeline in international cricket. Karthik played against Pakistan in Bangalore last year, but Parthiv's last match was four years ago, against Australia in Nagpur in October 2004.
Parthiv was revelation with the bat for Gujarat, as he hit 615 runs in seven Ranji Trophy Plate division matches in the 2007-08 season to help his team win the title. He followed it up with another good showing for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, amassing 302 runs in 13 matches.
Karthik, on the other hand, had a quiet time in the IPL with Delhi Daredevils scoring just 145 runs in 13 matches. However, the Tamil Nadu batsman will be the first choice to fill in for Dhoni since Parthiv's glove work is still to convince many.
Munaf Patel is also another player on the comeback trail. He played a stellar role in Rajasthan Royals' victory in the IPL, but despite that was not picked for the tri-series in Bangladesh and Asia Cup. However, better sense seems to have prevailed finally as he makes it to the squad ahead of Praveen Kumar and Irfan Pathan
Munaf's fitness will be under the scanner and it remains to be seen whether he can go through a full series without any breakdowns.
Similar will be the case for Zaheer Khan with the left-armer making a comeback to the Test squad after missing international cricket due to injuries since last November.
Virender Sehwag's appointment as vice-captain is hugely debatable. With seniors like Tendulkar and Laxman in the side and willing up to take up responsibilities it would have made more sense to give them the role.
Overall, it a good all-round team comprising seven batsmen, four fast bowlers, three spinners and two wicketkeepers. India last toured the island nation in 2001, and ended up 2-1 losers. This time, no doubt, they are keen for revenge.
Batsmen: Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Rohit Sharma.
Bowlers: Anil Kumble (captain), Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, RP Singh, Munaf Patel, Ishant Sharma, Pragyan Ojha.
Wicketkeepers: Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel.

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