Chennai: India's first selection meeting after the World Cup triumph - to pick the side for the West Indies tour - promises to be an open affair, not least because at least three first-choice players are almost certain to miss the limited-overs leg. The new coach, Duncan Fletcher, too, flies down for the selection meeting, adding more interest to the proceedings.
With Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan almost sure to opt out, Virender Sehwag off for his shoulder surgery and Ashish Nehra still recovering from the broken finger that kept him out of the World Cup final, there are quite a few places for the selectors to debate upon. There is also doubt over the extent, if any, of MS Dhoni's participation in the limited-overs leg of the tour.
In any case, indications are that Gautam Gambhir is set to become the full-time vice-captain across formats, taking over from Virender Sehwag, who had previously expressed his reluctance to perform the role. Gambhir captained India to a 5-0 ODI series win over New Zealand last year when Dhoni flew to South Africa to acclimatise for a Test series that began six days after the last New Zealand ODI. If Dhoni shoulders arms this time, Gambhir will be the captain for the limited-overs games. If Gambhir too wants a rest, Harbhajan Singh, who has announced his availability for the whole tour, could make his captaincy debut.
Praveen Kumar is a ready replacement for Zaheer, and Ishant Sharma should take Nehra's place. Piyush Chawla, who was part of the World Cup squad, is unlikely to retain his place. Pragyan Ojha is the logical replacement, but it is understood that Amit Mishra, Ravindra Jadeja and Rahul Sharma are all in contention.
The interesting point here is whether the selectors will factor in IPL performances in the case of, say, Rahul. The legspinner has been a standout performer for Pune Warriors this IPL season, but does not have a strong domestic record to back him. Picking players straight out of the IPL hasn't been a fruitful experience in the past. Manpreet Gony and Ashok Dinda are prime examples.
M Vijay would have been the automatic replacement for Sehwag's opening spot in a Test squad, but things are not so straightforward in ODIs: he has a top score of 33 in 11 innings in the format. Picking Parthiv Patel, who has done enough to overtake Dinesh Karthik as the No.2 wicketkeeper, will provide India with a reserve opener in addition to a wicketkeeper. S Badrinath and Rohit Sharma, the two top run-getters in the Ranji Trophy, are strong contenders for the batting vacancies. The other left-field options are Manoj Tiwary and Ambati Rayudu, who can keep wicket as well.
Likely XV: Gautam Gambhir (capt), Parthiv Patel (wk), M Vijay (openers), Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan, Rohit Sharma / S Badrinath (middle order), Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha / Ravindra Jadeja/ Amit Mishra / Rahul Sharma (spinners), Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel, Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma (pace bowlers)