Monday, November 9, 2009

Zaheer Khan braces for Test return

Zaheer Khan has recovered well from his shoulder injury and, having featured in Twenty20 matches during the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament and a Ranji Trophy fixture, is expected to be back for India when the selectors meet on Tuesday to pick the Test squad to play Sri Lanka. VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid will duly take their places in the middle order, while Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra are likely to retain their spinning roles. Yuvraj Singh is also expected to feature at No. 6 in the batting line-up, but it's the fast bowlers that will throw up a debate.

Including Ashish Nehra in the Test side is going to be tempting. It is also a risk. Nehra has done well after making his ODI return, but do the selectors want to risk his fitness in the longest format of the game? If Nehra does make the transition, he will replace one of the two back-up fast bowlers that went to New Zealand: Dhawal Kulkarni and L Balaji. India will not need a 16-member squad, so just one reserve fast bowler should do. But even if Nehra is not picked, somebody like Sudeep Tyagi might stand a better chance than Balaji and Kulkarni. Going by how Ishant Sharma was persisted with in the ODIs, he is likely to keep his Test place, along with Munaf Patel.

Dinesh Karthik was the substitute middle-order batsman in New Zealand, where he doubled up as a reserve wicketkeeper. Here in India, Dhoni might not need back-up behind the stumps. There is another decision for the selectors to make: whether to retain Karthik in a role similar to the one in New Zealand, or draft in a specialist middle-order batsman like S Badrinath.

Probable squad: MS Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik/S Badrinath, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, Amit Mishra, Ashish Nehra/one back-up fast bowler.

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