Mumbai, Nov. 5 -- Zaheer Khan cleared a fitness test and Virender Sehwag smashed a hundred to win their places in the squad for the first two Tests against England as the new selectors stuck to the tried and tested in their first selection meeting. Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and opener Murali Vijay made a comeback while Suresh Raina was dropped by the Sandeep Patil-led committee.
All eyes were on Zaheer at the Wankhede Stadium and on Sehwag at Ghaziabad's Nehru Stadium in their respective Ranji Trophy games on Monday morning.
The left-arm pacer, who limped off on Sunday evening, heightened the suspense over his fitness when he didn't join his teammates on the field for the final day's play against Railways.
But the way Sehwag started off against Uttar Pradesh, the selectors wouldn't have needed much assurance that his finger injury was not a cause of concern.
Zaheer's case was a bit confusing though. In fact, a concerned chief selector Sandeep Patil arrived at the ground almost half an hour before the start of the day's play and headed straight to the Mumbai dressing room.
He watched the proceedings for the first hour, and before leaving for the selection meeting, again paid a visit to the dressing room.
It was clear that the selection committee was not prepared to take any chances. As they went into a huddle with skipper MS Dhoni, the pacer was put through a test by National Cricket Academy physio, Ashish Kaushik.
The test, which started with an elaborate stretching routine, ended with Zaheer bowling around four overs, the entire exercise lasting for about 45 minutes.
Obviously, it went off well because soon after the NCA physio was seen walking out of the BCCI office, the team was announced.
The Mumbai bowler had pulled up sore on Sunday. "We needed only two wickets anyway," a Mumbai team official said.
While India are likely to play only two pacers at home, in case of any last-minute issues with Zaheer, they have Ishant Sharma as the back-up.
The selection of Murali Vijay as the back-up opener for a home series suggests that the selectors have put the current openers on notice.
The Sehwag-Gambhir combination has a great record but has been inconsistent over the past two seasons.
In his last 12 innings, Gambhir has only one half-century. He aggregated 58 runs in three innings against New Zealand.
And the last time he got close to a Test hundred was in January 2011 when he got 93 at Cape Town.
Sehwag is getting starts but his conversion rate has dipped, as seen in the last series against New Zealand where his scores were 47, 43 and 38.
He has just one half-century in his last 10 innings (62 versus Australia in Adelaide, in January this year).
Yuvraj forced his way back on the back of wonderful batting, scoring a double century in the Duleep Trophy and a classy 59 for India 'A' against England last week. His bowling is an added bonus, which he proved with a five-for against England.
Harbhajan's dream of completing 100 Tests has been revived, though the 98-Test veteran's selection is more due to lack of options than current form.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.