The Indian squads (Test and ODI) for the first cricket tour overseas – to South Africa – after Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement are an overwhelming endorsement for ‘Generation-Next’ to stride forward though the selectors, who met at Vadodara on Monday, did pick Zaheer Khan, in a sense a veteran now, for the Tests.
India will play three ODIs, a two-day warm-up game and two Tests in South Africa, starting with the limited-overs clash at Johannesburg on December 5.
The tour, that triggered debate over the equations between the BCCI and Cricket South Africa, was scaled down from its earlier proposed frame-work of three Tests, seven ODIs and two Twenty20s.
Zaheer, the 35-year-old speedster, who last played for India in the Test against England at Kolkata during December 2012, has recovered well from his injuries as evident in his performances for India ‘A’ against the West Indies ‘A’ and in the Ranji Trophy outings for Mumbai.
In his latest game against Delhi, he had a five-for in the first innings and that included the scalp of Virender Sehwag.
On the bouncy pitches in South Africa, Zaheer will be needed both as a spearhead as well as a mentor to the likes of Mohammad Shami. Jayadev Unadkat and R. Vinay Kumar, who are part of the ODI squad in the current series against the West Indies, have been omitted while Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav are part of both the Test and ODI teams.
Meanwhile an out-of-form Sehwag (with recent scores of 1, 15, 9, 35 n.o., 3 and 6) and Gautam Gambhir, who is back amidst the runs (123 against the West Indies ‘A’ and a 153 against Haryana) continue to be overlooked.
Ahead of the 2007-08 tour of Australia, Sehwag, who was then in a similar predicament, was recalled thanks to the then skipper Anil Kumble’s insistence and the aggressive opener repaid his captain’s faith with a 151 at Adelaide.
There was no such turn of destiny again for Sehwag and along with Gambhir, he will have to work his way through the Ranji season. Harbhajan Singh, another member of the senior group, finds no space for a comeback with R. Ashwin staying firm as the number one spinner.
Ambati Rayudu also finds a place for the first time in an Indian Test squad that is high on the youth-quotient in its batting.
Between them, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja and Ajinkya Rahane have played 64 Tests with Kohli being the most-capped at 20 and that is a huge contrast to the numbers that Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman had until their retirements.
Truly an era is over and South Africa will offer clues about the mettle in India’s batting that will be tested further in 2014 while tours of New Zealand and England beckon.
The schedule: Dec. 5, first ODI at Johannesburg; Dec. 8, second ODI at Durban; Dec. 11, third ODI at Centurion; Dec. 14- 15, warm-up game against South African Invitation XI at Benoni; Dec. 18 to 22, first Test at Johannesburg; Dec. 26 to 30, second and final Test at Durban.
The squads: (from): ODIs: M.S. Dhoni (capt.), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Mohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Amit Mishra and Ajinkya Rahane.
Tests: M.S. Dhoni (capt.), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, R. Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Zaheer Khan, Ambati Rayudu, Umesh Yadav, Wriddhiman Saha, Ishant Sharma, Pragyan Ojha and Ravindra Jadeja.
“It’s youth over experience” (Nov. 26, 2013, Sport), wrongly stated that there would be a limited-overs clash at Durban on December 5. The match will be at Johannesburg.