Oct 2, 2008

Sport - Cricket;Ganguly is Back!

MUMBAI: Sourav Ganguly's Test career received fresh lease of life on Wednesday with the newly-appointed national selection panel naming him in India's 15-member squad for the first two Tests against Australia starting October 9.

Virtually ignoring the previous selection committee's stand on the elegant left-hander, the new team of selectors -- headed by former captain Krishnamachari Srikkanth -- included the 36-year-old Ganguly in the squad which also has Tamil Nadu batsman S Badrinath and Delhi leg-spinner Amit Mishra as the two new faces.

After being dropped from the Rest of India squad for the Irani Cup match, Ganguly's selection was a subject of intense speculation with rumours being rife that he might quit the game if omitted from the national side.

While Badrinath and Mishra got the selectors' nod, middle-order batsman Yuvraj Singh was ignored yet again for the longer version of the game.

Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Kaarthick and Pragyan Ojha, who figured in the Indian squad during the last Test series against Sri Lanka, were omitted from the team announced by new secretary S Srinvisan through a press release.

Immediately after the team was announced, there was speculation that Ganguly had been given the opportunity for an "honourable exit" but it could not be immediately confirmed whether the BCCI indeed had such plans.

The team, to be led by Anil Kumble, has seven specialist batsmen, four pacemen, three spinners and a wicketkeeper in Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Sachin Tendulkar, who sat out of the recent tri-series against Sri Lanka because of an elbow injury, retained his place in the Test squad after being declared fit.

The selection of Ganguly reflects a new approach by the Srikkanth-led committee, which has banked on experience rather than grooming too many young players for the gruelling series against Australia.

The Irani Cup snub had put a question-mark on Ganguly's career and this probably would be the last chance for the feisty former India captain to prove his worth.

The Bengal stalwart, who made a spectacular entry into Tests with a debut ton at Lord's in 1996, made a storming return to the five-day game in South Africa in late 2006 after losing his place earlier that year due to a fall-out with the then coach Greg Chappell.

The classy left-hander amassed over 1100 runs with 239, his career-best score, against Pakistan in Bangalore in late 2007, at a fantastic average of 61.44 last year which compares favourably with his career average of 41.74 in 109 Tests.

The 28-year-old Badrinath was rewarded for his consistent performance in domestic cricket and India A engagements in recent times.

Badrinath has played only three ODIs and with a well-settled middle-order line-up, it appears extremely unlikely that he would get a chance to make his Test debut.

Badrinath has scored 4638 runs in 66 first class matches at an impressive average of 55.21.

Mishra's inclusion has come as a bit of a surprise as the Delhi leg-spinner has done nothing remarkable whenever he has been given an opportunity to play an international game.

The 25-year-old has played three ODIs, scalping three wickets, but in first-class cricket, he averages a decent 25.21 with 289 wickets in 75 matches.

Virender Sehwag and Delhi teammate Gautam Gambhir are the two specialist openers in the squad and the duo have been in good form in recent times, which prompted the selectors not to opt for a reserve opener.

The middle order has a settled look with Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Ganguly and Dhoni. But all these experienced batsmen will be under some pressure to perform particularly after their miserable show in the recent series against Sri Lanka.

Zaheer Khan will spearhead the pace bowling department which has Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel and R P Singh. All the four have performed well in recent matches.

Captain Kumble and Harbhbajan Singh will shoulder the spin bowling responsibility and will have to play a key role in home conditions if India wish to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

The team: Anil Kumble (capt), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, R P Singh, S Badrinath, Amit

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