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HindustanTimes Sun,28 Dec 2014

Cricket

Shaken, stirred at the top
HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times
Mumbai, February 11, 2013
First Published: 00:15 IST(11/2/2013)
Last Updated: 02:21 IST(11/2/2013)

Gautam Gambhir's double act with Virender Sehwag seems to be well and truly over after the national selectors struck on Sunday, omitting the diminutive left-handed batsman from the squad named for the first two Tests against Australia.

That the durable openers have been under pressure and the Test series defeat at home against England late last year, after the routs in England and Australia, have only heightened concerns over their failures that put extra pressure on a young middle-order.

The selectors ended the ODI pairing when Sehwag was left out for the series against England. The explosive batsman's impact value is higher and he had scored a century in the first Test against England. Though there were hopes that Gambhir would get one last opportunity to shake off what seemed to technical as well as confidence issues, the selectors seemed to have pushed for a change with an eye on the future.

Opening salvo
While Murali Vijay has been retained in the squad after he did not get to play against England, left-hander Shikhar Dhawan's inclusion as a reserve opener ahead of the 34-year-old Mumbai stalwart Wasim Jaffer, who has just ended another prolific domestic season, also seemed to be a desperate attempt to shape the team for battles ahead.

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Gambhir has in fact been directed to captain the India A squad in the three-day warm-up tie against Australia from February 16, replacing Dhawan in the side, which should keep him in the frame for any recall. The decisiveness of the Sandeep Patil-led panel in the batsman's case will also keep Sehwag under pressure to perform.

Vijay comes off a century in the Irani Cup, which helped Rest of India claim the tie against Ranji champions Mumbai and will go into the tie with some confidence. The Chennai batsman had scored a half-century in the one-day warm up match against England late last year. Dhawan scored a half-century in the first innings of the Irani Cup, but fell again to his tendency of not making the most once he gets set.

Lack of options
It is not just batting where India have concerns. Harbhajan Singh's recall also suggests there are few quality replacement options in the spin department. The off-spinner was recalled after more than a year to play in the second Test against England in Mumbai as the third spinner, but was ordinary and was promptly dropped.

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The combative off-spinner has showed signs of finding his rhythm again in the Ranji semis against Saurashtra and in the Irani Cup. But his inclusion - he is on 99 Tests - is as much owing to the fact that Ravichandran Ashwin's ability to take wickets has diminished as he grapples with trying out too many variations. 

The story is the same in the pace department, where injuries have ruled out Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav. Ishant Sharma will share the new ball with either with Uttar Pradesh seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Ashok Dinda. Kumar has the ability to swing the ball and was impressive in the ODI series against Pakistan and England, but will be tested in the five-day game.


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