That India is travelling for a four-Test series in Australia with a jumbo 18-member squad suggests the selectors and the team-management want as many options as possible.
The injury to skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s right thumb — it will keep him out of the first Test beginning in Brisbane from December 4 — has led to ’keeper-batsman Naman Ojha being selected as cover for Wriddhiman Saha.
Although Saha, always smart with his glove-work, is the automatic choice to replace Dhoni in the first Test, the Indian team needs Ojha just in case the Bengal ’keeper runs into injury concerns ahead of the opener.
Of course, the 31-year-old Ohja can also double up as an additional top-order batsman. The Madhya Pradesh cricketer’s run of scores for India ‘A’ against Australia ‘A’ in the two ‘Test’ series down under in 2013 might have swung things in his favour. Those who watched the series believe he can handle bounce with his back-foot play. The tall and upright Ojha had scores of 219 not out, 101 not out and 110 in the two matches, both in Brisbane.
Ojha, however, will return to India once Dhoni joins the team.
Picked on recent form
Mangalurean K.L. Rahul, an organised batsman, makes it to the squad as the reserve opener. The 22-year-old Karnataka cricketer has been picked on both form and potential — his impressive century-in-each-innings feat in the Duleep Trophy final for South against Central recently demanded attention.
The selectors have also concluded that an additional middle-order batsman might prove more useful to the side than someone who does a bit of everything like Stuart Binny.
The left-handed Suresh Raina, who last figured in a Test in the 2012 home series against New Zealand, receives a look-in. Given his past difficulties in coping with well-directed short-pitched bowling from the pacemen, Raina’s selection ahead of Ambati Rayudu is debatable.
But then, it should not be forgotten that Raina did handle the lifting deliveries from the pacey Fidel Edwards with some success on the lively tracks of Jamaica and Barbados in the 2011 Test series; he had scores of 82 and 53 in the two Tests. It is learnt the team-management feels the 27-year-old southpaw has a lot more to offer in Tests than his present 768 runs in 17 matches at 28.44.
The wise men have also chosen a third spinner — R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja being the other two — to lend the attack greater variety. Leg-spinner Karn Sharma achieves good bounce — an essential ingredient on the surfaces down under — and delivers an effective googly. Sharma might have got the nod over Amit Mishra since he is quicker off the pitch.
Five-man pace attack
By selecting both Varun Aaron and Mohammed Shami, the selectors have shown the belief that both would recover from their fitness concerns in time for the first Test. The side has five pacemen; Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar being the others. With Aaron, Yadav, Ishant and Shami around, the attack is not lacking in firepower. Will the pack bowl with control and adapt to the conditions?
The absence of a left-arm seamer hurts the attack though.
Being named skipper for the first Test could just be the motivation Virat Kohli needs to regain his Test form. Yet, will the team have adequate preparation with only two two-day practice games scheduled ahead of the first Test?
Team for Australia Tests: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (C), Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Wriddhiman Saha, Naman Ojha, R Ashwin, Karn Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron.
Team for last 2 ODIs against Sri Lanka: Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina, Robin Uthappa, Axar Patel, Karn Sharma, R Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Dhawal Kulkarni, Stuart Binny, Vinay Kumar, Kedar Jadhav.