Logic would say that if you go by the squad selection for the first three matches of the one-day series against West Indies, announced on Friday by the national selectors, the case of Harbhajan Singh being picked for the Test leg of the Australia series can be easily cast aside. Then again, selection is based on more than just logic.
Harbhajan, who fell out of favour in the two homes series in the last two months, England first and now West Indies, had a chance to find form by leading Punjab in the Ranji Trophy. However, just two wickets in three matches, at an astronomical average of 102, does not befit India's current highest wicket-taker who has been struggling with form from the England tour.
In England, Harbhajan played in the first two Tests of the four-Test series which England emphatically won 4-0. Harbhajan had accounted for just two wickets, albeit in non-spinner friendly conditions where even Graeme Swann found it hard to strike consistently. Certain critics openly voiced a concern about why the selectors were ignoring, thereby delaying the entry of R Ashwin into the longer form, especially after he had shown the character and the boldness with the ball to attack the batsmen in the shorter forms.
A abdominal muscle strain had forced Harbhajan to return home early from England. He returned to fitness a month later to lead Mumbai Indians to the Champions League Twenty20 title. However, according to an Indian board official, the spinner was tired.
It is not that Harbhajan is devoid of supporters though. Ravi Shastri, former India player-turned-television commentator, has been a leading voice, saying that India need him for his ability to 'get under the skin' of the Australians and his experience of touring the country. For the record, on India's last tour to Australia, in 2007-08, Harbhajan had a tally of eight wickets in three Tests at 61.25. However, he conceded over 100 runs in an innings thrice in that series.
Australia has not been exactly a hunting ground for off spinners as Swann, the best spinner according to the ICC Test rankings, found out during the last Ashes when he bagged 15 wickets at 39 apiece in the five-match Ashes including seven-wicket match haul in Adelaide.
"You cannot make a selection on an emotional basis," a board source said. Srikkanth's recent selection decisions have shown that they are willing to dare. The inclusion of Varun Aaron and Rahul Sharma, two players without strong domestic records, are prime examples. The message is clear: one has to perform and reputations do not matter.
The selections for the last two Australia tours have been controversial, regarding that of older players feared to be on the wane. Harbhajan's senior partner, Anil Kumble, turned his career around in 2003-04, while Virender Sehwag also enjoyed a revival in the next tour in 2007-08. His inclusion inclusion towards the latter half of the tour from the Perth Test changed the team and his own fortunes around.
Coming to other selections, most of the 15 selected for the ongoing Mumbai Test are likely to go to Australia. The only possible change is Rahul Sharma making way for a five-man pace attack along with two spinners in Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha. Zaheer Khan would be a provisional selection , based on his fitness in the Ranji match against Orissa (starting November 29) and probably Saurashtra (December 6). Praveen Kumar, who had injured himself during the ODI series in England, is likely to return to join Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron in the pace department.
One of Wriddhiman Saha and Parthiv Patel could be picked as the second wicket-keeper. In England Saha was MS Dhoni's back-up in Test series with Parthiv playing in the one-dayers.
Probable squad: MS Dhoni (capt), Virender Sehwag (vice-capt), Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma/Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha/Parthiv Patel (wk), R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron. In case of 17: Harbhajan Singh