New Delhi: Zaheer Khan may not have a BCCI contract but he will be happy to see his name appear on the list of India's Test squad for the tour of South Africa, which the selectors announced on Monday. But Gautam Gambhir will have to wait a bit longer to earn a recall.
The selectors decided to pick five pacers for the tour, which probably threw a rope to Zaheer who has shown some form in the Ranji Trophy this season with 13 wickets from three matches with a best of 5 for 88. Other than Zaheer, the squad includes fast bowlers Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma.
Zaheer spent the off-season in France to get fit and then trained under the eyes of former India coach Gary Kirsten in South Africa. And the results have shown. The veteran speedster has looked fitter and slimmer, and it's evident in his bowling.
Gambhir's luck, though, refused to improve despite his 153 on Saturday against Haryana. He has scored 372 runs in six Ranji innings so far this season, but probably lost the race to the reserve wicketkeeper's slot that went to Wriddhiman Saha.
The spot left vacant by Sachin Tendulkar's retirement was taken by the legend's former Mumbai and India team-mate Ajinkya Rahane. It will be interesting to know if he has also been selected as the third opener. Other than Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay, the squad doesn't have any other specialist opener unless the selectors have picked glovesman Saha to perform a dual role.
Ishant took nine wickets in the Ranji match leading up to the selection meeting, which helped him retain his under-fire place. However, Amit Mishra, who warmed the Test bench in the home series against West Indies, has been dropped. Ravindra Jadeja made an expected comeback to wear the Test whites after being rested for the West Indies series due to a shoulder injury.
The only new face in the Test set-up is Ambati Rayudu, who has been selected as a reserve batsman. Interestingly, Rayudu too can keep wickets as he has done for the Mumbai Indians in the IPL. So there could have been case for Gambhir's inclusion in place of Saha with Rayudu as the wicketkeeping backup.
The selectors also announced the ODI squad simultaneously, with out-of-form Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina retaining their place. Ishant Sharma returned to the ODI set-up despite a poor series against Australia, which led to his ouster from the three-match rubber against West Indies. Vinay Kumar and Jaydev Unadkat have been dropped, while Rahane got an ODI recall.