Kolkata: Harbhajan Singh's Test career was put on hold after the senior off-spinner was dropped for the first Test against the West Indies, beginning in New Delhi on November 6. (Agencies)
The 31-year-old, who has been India’s lead spinner following the retirement three years ago of former skipper Anil Kumble, has paid the price for an ordinary last few tours. Tamil Nadu’s R Ashwin has been given the opportunity to showcase his skills in the longer version, the 25-year-old one of four new faces in the 15-man squad.
Ashwin and leggie Rahul Sharma -- a surprise inclusion given his modest first-class record -- join paceman Varun Aaron and reserve opener Ajinkya Rahane as new faces in a squad that welcomes back from injury of a host of stalwarts, including Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh.
There is no place for Suresh Raina, the left-hander from Uttar Pradesh who has struggled to adjust to the challenges of Test cricket, the Krishnamachari Srikkanth’s panel instead opting for the more compact Virat Kohli.
The Delhi right-hander didn’t have a great debut in the Caribbean, but has sparkled in limited-overs cricket since, though he will not be an automatic choice in the eleven following the return of the big guns who stayed out of the Caribbean series.
The talking point, though, will remain Harbhajan’s omission. For the first time in several years, the Jalandhar man has been relegated to the sidelines not because of injury or fitness concerns but because of issues relating to his form.
Having said that, the selectors also believe this outing against the West Indians, not the most formidable team in world cricket, provides an ideal, pressure-free atmosphere for Ashwin and Rahul to ease into Test cricket. There is a perfect symmetry to the spin combine, left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha the third cog in the wheel.
Ishant Sharma, who returned prematurely from England with an ankle injury, will spearhead the fast bowling duties. There is no Praveen Kumar, and therefore a distinct lack of experience, with one of Aaron or Umesh Yadav -- who toured South Africa late last year without playing a game -- certain to make his Test debut at the Feroze Shah Kotla.
The squad: MS Dhoni (captain/wk), Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Virat Kohli, Varun Aaron, Ajinkya Rahane, Rahul Sharma.
Kolkata: Harbhajan Singh's Test career was put on hold after the senior off-spinner was dropped for the first Test against the West Indies, beginning in New Delhi on November 6.