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Team selection for Australia easier than curbing inflation

Harsha Bhogle

Posted: Dec 30, 2011 at 1239 hrs IST

: As Indiaís selectors sat down to the rather enviable job of watching Rahul Dravid bat at the Wankhede Stadium, grammar, grace and grooming all on display, they must scarcely have thought of the job ahead. While it would seem that picking a team to tour Australia might require a lot of introspection, analysis and tough decision-making, in reality it is a far easier assignment than a few others going around. Certainly easier than pretending to curb inflation or rein in fiery chief ministers.

Normally, Iím not a great fan of picking 17 players; the fewer players you have who are unlikely to get a game the better the climate in the dressing room. But given fitness levels, it may not be a bad idea to look at the extra player. He might only have to hide the aggressive writings in newspapers from the players but it is better the extra player is in Australia than in a consulate awaiting visa.

The extra player would have to be a quick bowler given that Zaheer Khan will be returning from an injury and both Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron havenít been around long enough to get a comforting picture on their fitness. Ishant Sharma has bowled a lot on an ankle that was, till recently, cause for concern. It looks like a fifth bowler would be a prudent investment.

The eight batsmen select themselves. With Sehwag fit and Gambhir married, they are free to continue with an opening partnership that is working and yet underperforming. These are fine players but at the moment playing to par. It will be the last time Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman will be touring Australia and those three will have tick marks against their name very quickly; not on grounds of sentiment or cruelty to youngsters but by the weight of runs.

By leaving out Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina from the home series, the selectors have already shown their hand. Virat Kohli must go and it seems Rohit Sharma has earned their fancy. You can complain with neither decision. That leaves the reserve opener, a slot that Dravid would be particularly keen to see filled. Murali Vijay hasnít knocked hard enough, neither really has Abhinav Mukund, who looked good in patches in England. It would seem Ajinkya Rahane has the nod at the moment but that decision might take a third of the time at the meeting.

With Harbhajan Singh not exactly running through sides in the Ranji Trophy, and relatively uninspiring numbers behind him in Australia, Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin should make it. There is something to be said in favour of Harbhajan, though, for he is a feisty character and gets under Aussie skins but is more likely to do that with wickets in his bag. This might not be his tour.

Both Yadav and Aaron have impressed. At the moment, promise rather than achievement would be their qualification, but theyíve done enough to make it along with Ishant. And if Zaheer can run in hard in the two Ranji Trophy matches he has, it will be a significant boost. But run in hard he must, for he has only been on short term visas in Australia in the past. But he swings the ball and in recent times Australian batsmen havenít countered the curving ball as well as they do the straight one. Mumbaiís game on the 29th will be worth a look.

So who is number five? In England Praveen Kumar was outstanding but in Australia the sun will beat down, the tracks will be hard and the seam on the Kookaburra will go faster than a Mumbai winter! But apart from swing, he showed a lot of heart in England and so he will probably get the nod ahead of RP Singh, Sreesanth and Vinay Kumar. I hope the selectors are keeping a close eye on Irfan Pathan, for he has had two 5-wicket hauls and has done a lot of bowling. He could be handy at number 8; if Zaheer isnít fit and Ojha plays ahead of Ashwin, Dhoni will be followed by Ishant, Yadav, Aaron and Ojha, which will leave him just enough time for a change of pads.

The selectors seem to like Wriddhiman Saha as the next best wicketkeeper and so this is the team that will most likely go to Australia: Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Rahane, Dhoni, Saha, Zaheer, Ishant, Aaron, Yadav, Praveen Kumar, Ashwin and Ojha.

It is the best team India can put out at the moment.

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