To play MS Dhoni or bench him? That will be one of the biggest questions facing the India selectors on Friday evening when they meet in Kolkata to pick the squad for the first Test against West Indies. The other big question is likely to concern Harbhajan Singh, who was dropped from the five-match one-day series against England at home, which India won by an emphatic 5-0 scoreline.
Logic would suggest that Dhoni, the India captain, be rested. He has been walking wounded, having had sore fingers since the disastrous England tour during which India failed to win a single game. While as many as ten of his team-mates fell by the wayside due to various injuries, Dhoni took the beating across the four Tests, the solitary Twenty20 match and the five ODIs. Despite his grit and steadfastness, Dhoni's wicketkeeping was affected as the tour wore on. The selectors will consider that, with an important tour of Australia scheduled straight after the home series against West Indies.
It is understood that Dhoni has not asked for a break but the majority of the five-man selection panel are in favour of resting him for the three-match Test series against West Indies, which starts in Delhi from November 6. "Quite a few of the selectors empathise with him [Dhoni]. They want to rest him as they know he is exhausted," a BCCI official said.
If Dhoni is rested, Virender Sehwag, who returned to competitive cricket during the group stages of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, India's domestic Twenty20 competition, is likely to lead the side. Sehwag, who had joined the India squad in England halfway through the Test series after undergoing shoulder surgery, was forced to return having failed to recuperate completely.
In the past, Sehwag has led India in three Tests: in Ahmedabad against Sri Lanka (2005), in Napier against New Zealand (2009), and then against Bangladesh in Chittagong (2010).
It is not just the question of whether to rest Dhoni that will make this one of the most interesting selection meetings in the recent past. Harbhajan has apparently fallen out of favour with the selectors, after taking just two wickets in two Tests in England and 11 over three in the West Indies before that. R Ashwin was handed the responsibility of leading the spin attack in the home ODIs against England and impressed with 10 wickets at an average of 20.20, leaving the selectors split. An abdomen strain ruled Harbhajan out of the latter half of the England tour but he bounced back by leading Mumbai Indians to the Champions League Twenty20 title in the absence of the injured Sachin Tendulkar. "It is a difficult one for sure. Ashwin has been performing consistently," the BCCI official said.
Apart from Sehwag, the other players who have recovered from the injuries they sustained in England are Gautam Gambhir (concussion), Sachin Tendulkar (inflamed toe), Yuvraj Singh (broken finger) and Ishant Sharma (ankle injury).
Zaheer Khan, India's spearhead, is still recuperating after undergoing surgery on his ankle. Praveen Kumar, who led the attack manfully in England, is likely to be joined by Sreesanth and Ishant in the fast-bowling department. Pragyan Ojha could pip Amit Mishra for the second spinner's spot. In other duels, Wriddhiman Saha could be the second-choice wicketkeeper ahead of Parthiv Patel, who did not do himself any favours during the recent home ODI series.
One man who did tilt the scales in his favour is Virat Kohli, the highest run-getter in the home ODI series against England. If Kohli is selected it will leave Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina in a fight for the last batsman's spot. Cheteshwar Pujara, who picked up a knee injury during this year's IPL, has said he is close to match-fit again, but is targeting the Australia series for a comeback to the India squad.
Squad (probable): MS Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag (vice-captain), Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh/Suresh Raina, Wriddhiman Saha/Parthiv Patel, Harbhajan Singh/R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth