Delhi's attacking left-handed opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan was the surprise inclusion in India’s squad for the first two Tests against Australia beginning February 22. The 27-year-old replaced another Delhi southpaw — Gautam Gambhir — at the top of the order ending speculation over the identity of Virender Sehwag’s opening partner. (See the series fixture)
Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh made a comeback into the team. As the selection meeting was going on, Harbhajan was right next door at the Wankhede Stadium putting the finishing touches on Rest of India's Irani Cup win over Mumbai.
The 32-year-old earned a recall as third spinner, ahead of leg-spinner Piyush Chawla and behind R. Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, who retained their places. After he was dropped following India's loss to England in the third Test at Kolkata, Harbhajan played five Ranji games for Punjab taking 13 wickets, including a five-for in the semifinal against Saurashtra.
His record against the Aussies is outstanding: 81 wickets in 12 matches on Indian soil.
Tamil Nadu's M. Vijay resurrected a poor domestic season with a century in the Irani Cup. He made it into the 15 as the third opener silencing calls for veteran Mumbai accumulator, the 35-year-old Wasim Jaffer.
Vijay made his Test debut against Australia in Nagpur in 2008 and has since played 12 Tests for India, the last of which was against West Indies 2011. He had spent the entire home series against England last year on the bench.
Gambhir, not having scored a Test century in three years, paid for his poor form. But he was given another chance to prove himself for the last two Tests. He will now replace Dhawan in the India ‘A’ team for three-day game against Australia ahead of the opening match.
While Sehwag's inclusion itself was based more on lack of options and reputation than anything else, Dhawan's selection was even more surprising. Jaffer had a prolific season (capped by yet another century in the Irani fixture on Sunday) and was expected to be given a chance to add to his 31 Tests despite his advancing years.
But Dhawan, who scored runs at an average over 50 for Delhi last season — including two hundreds — was chosen as a like-for-like replacement for the left-handed Gambhir.
The middle order of the MS Dhoni-led side includes Sachin Tendulkar, another Irani Cup centurion; India's leading Test scorer last season Cheteshwar Pujara; and an out-of-form Virat Kohli. All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja and Mumbai's Ajinkya Rahane also retained their places and will battle it out for the No.6 slot.
After struggling in the ODIs against England, Rahane struck a timely 83 in the first innings versus Rest of India to hold on to his place in the 15-man Test squad. Another candidate for the same position, Suresh Raina, missed out despite scoring heavily in the Irani Cup.
Raina struck a blistering century for Rest of India in the first innings and another brisk 70-odd in the second. He had also performed consistently in the ODI series versus England. But a place for the Ghaziabad left-hander was not forthcoming.
In the absence of the injured Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav, fast-bowling duties will be shared between entrusted with Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who impressed in the recent ODIs against Pakistan and England.
Ishant's selection acquits him of the suspicion of injury, while Bhuvaneshwar was rewarded for a consistent domestic season and a good show in the limited-overs format. Shami Ahmed, who also debuted recently in ODIs, however, found himself out at the expense of the retained under-performing Bengal seamer Ashok Dinda.
The team (first two Tests): MS Dhoni (captain), Virender Sehwag, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, R. Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Ajinkya Rahane, Ashok Dinda. M. Vijay, Ishant Sharma.