Veteran India pacer Zaheer Khan has made it to the squad for the two Tests against South Africa in December. Gautam Gambhir has failed to make the team. The national selectors, headed by Sandeep Patil, picked the squad in Vadodara on Monday.
Ambati Rayudu has also made the Test squad for the first time in his career. He has been picked as a reserve batsman. But Zaheer's return has been quite sensational. The veteran pacer, who last played a Test match against England in Kolkata in December 2012, has been among wickets in Ranji Trophy, with 13 scalps at an average of 19.84, and his experience has helped for sure. The 35-year-old has played 88 Tests, taking 295 wickets. (Related: Zaheer and a grueling French experience)
Gambhir, however, failed to find a place in the side as a reserve opener despite a healthy average of 74 plus in the ongoing Ranji season. In Delhi's previous home game against Haryana, Gambhir scored 153 to engineer a 105-run victory for the hosts.
"His (Gambhir) name was discussed, in fact, we discussed a lot of things. Even skipper MS Dhoni was consulted and all the players were selected unanimously," BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel said after the selection committee meeting.
The month-long tour which includes three ODIs followed by two Tests is India's first international assignment after the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar.
Baroda batsman Rayudu, a seasoned domestic player, has been named in both the Test and ODI squads, while veterans like Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh continue to remain on the sidelines. The 28-year-old Rayudu, who is currently part of the team in the ongoing ODI series against the West Indies, has played four ODIs so far.
The selectors have gone in with five pacers for the two-Test series. Zaheer will be the senior-most in a quintet that has Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma. Ishant, who struggled for form in the ODI series against Australia, has been retained in both the squads. He took a match-haul of nine wickets in Delhi's win over Haryana in the Ranji Trophy match on Sunday. Umesh Yadav, who was dropped for the recent series' against Australia and West Indies, has been recalled in both the squads as well.
The Test squad has seven specialist batsmen, two wicketkeepers, five pacers and three spinners. Shikar Dhawan and Murali Vijay are certain to open the innings, while Virat Kohli is expected to take the number four slot vacated by Tendulkar. Zaheer is likely to be drafted directly into the playing XI with Shami, Ishant, Bhuvneshwar and Umesh fighting it out for two spots. R Ashwin will lead the spin attack while left-arm spinners Pragyan Ojha and Ravindra Jadeja will battle for one position.
The three ODIs are scheduled to be held in Johannesburg, Durban and Centurion on December 5, 8 and 11 respectively.
This will be followed by a two-day practice match against South African Invitational XI at the Willowmoore Park in Benoni.
The first Test match starts on December 18 at the New Wanderers while the 'Boxing Day' Test from December 26 will be played at the Kingsmead in Durban.
Test squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kolhi, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu, Wriddhiman Saha, Zaheer Khan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Pragyan Ojha
ODI Squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kolhi, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Mohit Sharma, Amit Mishra.
(with PTI inputs)