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Open doors, for starters

On the eve of the selection meeting to pick the 16 for Australia, and also the team for the last Test against Pak, there indeed are several certainties, reports Rohit Mahajan.

cricket Updated: Dec 05, 2007 01:39 IST
Rohit Mahajan

To go Down Under and win — or even draw a series — one must be brimming with conviction. On the eve of the selection meeting to pick the 16 for Australia, and also the team for the last Test against Pak, there indeed are several certainties.

One, the storm over Dilip Vengsarkar seems to have blown over, for now. Two, Anil Kumble is certain — or 99 per cent certain — to be captain. Three, 10 of the 16 who would travel to Australia pick themselves. There are some uncertainties, and they are over two vital aspects of the game, which can make or mar the tour — the opening combination and the pace bowling.

Ten men who simply have to be in the 16 are Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan.

The big trouble is over the fast bowlers, and India could struggle to even make up the right number, which would be five for the pacers. RP Singh and S Sreesanth, two of the three regular pacemen in the Tests in England, are still not quite fit — the latter, in fact, has been ruled out of the first two Tests Down Under.

John Gloster, the India physiotherapist, will give his report on the fitness status of the two pacemen on Wednesday.

After penciling down Zaheer Khan’s name, the selectors, thus, are likely to name Munaf Patel. Selection committee sources have told HT that Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharma are the other pacemen who could make the grade. There is also a possibility that the selectors would name only 15 to tour, and include Sreesanth for the final Test, depending on his fitness.

Now to the opening slot: Dinesh Karthik’s recent poor form — his scores of 9, 1, 1 and 28 in the four Test innings he’s played against Pakistan seem to have cast a shadow over him, and his case is likely to come up for discussion. Karthik’s ’keeping, though, and his show as opener since he was sent at the top at the Cape Town Test last year, could see him through.

Two Delhi men will be debated too. Aakash Chopra made a case for himself on Tuesday with a double century against Himachal Pradesh, his second double of the season. The Delhi opener’s first-class average this season is over 82, and the other double came against South Africa A. His tight technique, and record on the last Australia tour, could work for him.

Gautam Gambhir, the second Delhi opener and understudy during the England tour (he scored three half-centuries in four first-class matches there), seems to have a stronger case, especially as most of his runs have come in the international arena — in first-class, ODI and T20 level. His Ranji form is excellent as well, with 342 runs from four innings he’s had.

But the big question is, do the selectors believe that he has the right technique to open in Test cricket? According to sources, Virender Sehwag could be discussed but too seriously.

Another name is Parthiv Patel, who, at the turn of the season, made five centuries in five innings. His keeping is better than ever, and if a second ’keeper other than Karthik is to be picked, it has to be him. But it remains one big uncertainty.

The likely mix: Three specialist openers, two spinners, five pacers and six middle order bats.