India-Australia series: Time runs out for Gautam Gambhir

Gautam Gambhir
When the squad for the first two Tests against Australia was set to be announced, it was expected that the opening slot would witness a shake-up, and it proved to be so. Gautam Gambhir, without a century for more than two years now, found himself dropped with Delhi-mate Shikhar Dhawan pipping Wasim Jaffer as his replacement. The other changes were in the bowling department, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar being rewarded for his limited overs form of late with his maiden Test call up while Harbhajan Singh's record at home against Australia saw him make a return to the 15-member squad.

Dhawan had an excellent start to the season with back-to-back hundreds in the Duleep Trophy quarterfinal and seminal. He scored 110 for Delhi against England XI as well. But towards the end of the domestic season his form tailed off a bit. He tallied 524 runs in eight Ranji Trophy matches at 47.63 while making 63 and 0 in the Irani Trpohy game against Mumbai. Jaffer, who was reckoned to be in direct competition with him for the opener's slot tallied 835 runs in seven Ranji matches while also making 80 and 101* against Rest of India. Though a couple of selectors were learnt to be in favour of Jaffer, who is less than a week from his 35th birthday, the committee eventully decided to go for Dhawan, keeping in mind India's long-term committments.

"We picked Dhawan because we wanted to look ahead. He has been batting consistently well in domestic cricket and has also scored big for India A. Also, we wanted to maintain the left-right combination (at the top). Dhawan is a very good fielder," a selector told The Indian Express.

Gambhir's pedigree as a batsman had previously allowed him a long rope but his poor run of late — an average of 28.1 over two years without a century — finally caught up with him. Murali Vijay's century in the Irani Cup helped him retain his place as the reserve opener.

In the continued absence of Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma will lead a three-pronged seam attack that also has Ashok Dinda and Kumar. "Dinda was in the squad against England and it would have been unfair to drop him without giving him a game," said a selector. Parvinder Awana, who was in the squad for the fourth Test against England at Nagpur, was shown the door. Bhuvneshwar got the nod because most the committee felt his "swing will come in handy in the longer version as well."

The other change to the squad that played in Nagpur was Harbhajan Singh, who came in for Piyush Chawla. Harbhajan had a moderate Ranji season after being dropped from the Test team midway against England, picking up 16 wickets at 32.23. In the Irani Cup, he took three wickets in the first innings and two in the second. But his record against Australia clinched the deal. The 32-year-old off-spinner has 81 wickets in 12 Tests against the Aussies and if selected in the playing eleven, will play his 100th Test.

Ravindra Jadeja, who made his Test debut in Nagpur, is the only all-rounder, while Ajinkya Rahane has been retained as a middle-order batsman who is an option for the No. 6 slot. The squad is for the first Test, which starts on February 22 at Chennai, and the second at Hyderabad.

squad: MS Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashok Dinda

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