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Pacers' injury, opening slot to top selectors' agenda

India's selection committee meets tomorrow to pick the side for the Australia tour, and the pacemen and the opening slot should dominate the agenda.

cricket Updated: Dec 11, 2007 15:38 IST

With most of the frontline pacers grappling with injuries, the national selectors will have a tough time tomorrow when they go into a huddle to pick the 16-member Indian squad for the upcoming four-match Test series against Australia.

Ideally, tomorrow's meeting should have been all about taking stock of the available options and picking the best possible attack for the difficult tour. But thanks to the growing list of injuries, the challenge for Dilip Vengsarkar and fellow selectors would now be to find enough fit bowlers who can do the duty.

In fact the fitness status of the Indian team reads like a medical bulletin with spearhead Zaheer Khan nursing a heel injury, Munaf Patel's movement being restricted by a back strain and R P Singh continuing to be on the sidelines with a rib strain.

For all his aggression against the Aussies on the home turf, many waited to see how S Sreesanth fares when he travels Down Under. But thanks to a shoulder injury that he picked up during the ODI series against Pakistan, the volatile Kerala speedster is not even in the scheme of things, failing to make it to the long list of 24 probables on injury count.

It was little surprise that the selectors named 13 bowlers, including nine pace options, in the list of 24 probables that also includes three wicketkeepers and eight batsmen.

Physio John Gloster would be a busy man as he assesses the injured pacers before clearing them for the four-match Test series.

The spate of injuries, meanwhile, has opened the door for both Irfan Pathan and Ajit Agarkar and the rookie quartet of Ishant Sharma, Ranadeb Bose, VRV Singh and Pankaj Singh.

While Irfan stands good chance of retaining his place, Agarkar has to convince the selectors that he has recovered from his shoulder injury.

Among the rookies, Ishant's five-for in the second innings against Pakistan will buttress his case even though initially, he looked rather ordinary.

Bose has dominated the domestic scene last year, while Pankaj has been in scintillating form in the ongoing Ranji season. VRV's forte has been his pace but he is still to convince all that he's the next best thing to happen to Indian cricket.

Injury woe does not spare the batsmen either and a cloud of doubt hovers over Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Tendulkar missed the ongoing final Test against Pakistan with a knee injury, while Dhoni, who had hurt his ankle before the second Test, has an injury on the webbing of his left hand.

The injuries notwithstanding, they are certain to board the Australia-bound flight.

Much to the relief of Vengsarkar and his colleagues, there is no such worry about the spin department with captain Anil Kumble driven by the extra motivation of doing well on his maiden Australia tour as captain.

Australia often brings out the best in Harbhajan Singh, while Murali Kartik has been more than impressive against Ricky Ponting's side in the home series earlier this year.

Talented leggie Piyush Chawla is also named in the list but in all probability, he would have to wait, bidding his time to get into the action.

With the middle order clicking together, Indian batting line-up looks formidable. It has been a problem of plenty for the Indian think-tank and a player of Yuvraj Singh's calibre could get a look in only after Tendulkar sat out with injury.

And Yuvraj further compounded the selectorial dilemma with his sterling century against Pakistan.

Sourav Ganguly can't do anything wrong these days, while VVS Laxman remains as sublime as ever. While Rahul Dravid can definitely do better, there is no question mark against him.

Selectors would have to face the Yuvraj dilemma again when Tendulkar returns from the injury.

Meanwhile, it would be interesting to see whom the selectors pick to open the innings with in-form Wasim Jaffer.

Dinesh Karthik, Gautam Gambhir and Aakash Chopra would fancy their chances but it's not going to be an easy call.

Karthik has done a brilliant job in the England tour but remained off-colour against Pakistan. Gambhir has looked good but just about that.

In contrast, runs just flowed from his Delhi mate Chopra's blade in the domestic season and many still remember how the gutsy opener fared as Virender Sehwag's foil in the 2003-4 Australia tour.

Another player who would be fancying his chances is babyface stumper Parthiv Patel, who has been consistent with the bat to force his way back into reckoning.

Probables: Anil Kumble (C), Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Wasim Jaffer, Dinesh Kaarthick, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Sourav Ganguly, RP Singh, Munaf Patel, Zaheer Khan, VRV Singh, Pankaj Singh, Ishant Sharma, Murali Kartik, Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla, Aakash Chopra, Gautam Gambhir, Ranadeb Bose, Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Parthiv Patel.