African safari: Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan in fray for Team India berths
Gautam Gambhir, who led from the front in Delhi's win with a knock of 153, has so far scored 372 runs in six innings in Ranji Trophy this season at a healthy average of 74 plus. He is vying for the reserve opener's slot.
Veterans Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer Khan's names are set to be discussed when the Indian selectors meet here tomorrow to decide on the squads for the tour of South Africa, starting December 5.
Since BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel is the convener of the senior selection committee, the meeting is being held in his hometown.
While the Indian ODI squad is likely to be selected on the expected lines with almost all the members of the team playing against West Indies set to be retained, the Test squad can have a few interesting selections.
The attention will be entirely on Gambhir and Zaheer's entry into the squad as the additional opener and fifth pacer.
Gambhir, who led from the front in Delhi's win with a knock of 153, has so far scored 372 runs in six innings in Ranji Trophy this season at a healthy average of 74 plus. He also has a couple of half-centuries in the match against Mumbai.
With Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan having sealed the first XI openers' slot, Gambhir will be vying for that reserve opener's place as Ajinkya Rahane has been earmarked as a middle-order batsman in longer format.
While Virat Kohli is expected to be promoted as No 4 with Sachin Tendulkar's retirement, Rahane is likely to be inducted in the playing XI as No 6 batsman with skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni coming in at No 7. Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma are automatic choices as Nos 3 and 5 respectively.
Offie Ravichandran Ashwin is likely to be the lone spinner in the playing XI while fight for the second spinner's slot will be between Ravindra Jadeja and Pragyan Ojha. Ojha's last Test appearance in Mumbai recently got him a match haul of 10 wickets while Jadeja is a much better batsman of the two.
Axe could fall on leg-spinner Amit Mishra as India can't afford to select three specialist spinners in a country where pitches are conducive for fast bowling.
Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar have already sealed their spots in the playing XI with some good performances. Ishant Sharma is also in the fray after his 9-wicket haul against Haryana in a Ranji Trophy match.
Umesh Yadav has only got four wickets in two Ranji Trophy games for Vidarbha but his pace is something that Dhoni would be looking out for.
The fifth pacer's slot will be an interesting one as Zaheer's fate hangs in balance as he will fight it out with the likes of R Vinay Kumar, Jaydev Unadkat and Mohit Sharma for that slot. Zaheer's exclusion from the BCCI Annual Contracts may be an indicator that selectors are looking beyond the 34-year-old left-arm seamer.
The other interesting slot will be the 15th member which either be an additional batsman or a wicketkeeper. Wriddhiman Saha has been India's second choice in Test matches on away tours while Dinesh Karthik has donned the big gloves in the ODIs.
In the ongoing Ranji Trophy, Karthik has scored only 85 runs in four innings without a single 50 while Saha has scored 266 runs from five knocks with three half-centuries.
In case of a specialist batsman, Suresh Raina, who has a Grade A contract could be drafted in as he is a certainty in the shorter version.
India are scheduled to play three ODIs in Johannesburg, Durban and Centurion on December 5, 8, 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.