Mumbai: Leaving out an out-of-form Gautam Gambhir, India selectors on Sunday picked Shikhar Dhawan in the 15-man squad for the first two Tests against Australia, starting in Chennai on February 22.
Harbhajan Singh, who was left out from the last Test against England, has also been included and could get a chance to play his 100th Test match. Swing bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar has also been rewarded for the consistency he had shown recently in limited-overs cricket, being selected along with Ishant Sharma and Ashok Dinda. Leg spinner Piyush Chawla and Delhi medium pacer Parvinder Awana, as expected, have been left out.
Harbhajan has taken 13 wickets in five first-class matches, including five wickets in the Irani Cup, since he was dropped from the Test squad against England. Harbhajan's inclusion could also be the result of the number of left-handers in Australia's lineup and his record against the tourists in India (81 wickets in 12 Tests).
Tamil Nadu's Murali Vijay had put his name back in the reckoning with a solid 116 during the Irani Cup. Vijay was fortunate to be in the ROI team due to the absence of any strong contenders for the opener's slot, especially after a poor Ranji Trophy. But he duly grabbed his chance with a century. He made his debut against Australia in 2008 and has played two Tests against them.
While showing the doors to Gambhir - who hasn't scored a Test century in over three years and averaged just 30 since then - selectors have given another go to Sehwag. The dashing batsman had pulled out of the Irani Cup before the toss and had no serious match practice to show for since he was axed from the ODI squad last month. His last six Test innings read 0, 23, 49, 30, 9 and 25.
Jadeja made his debut in the Nagpur Test against England and got to bat in one innings in which he made 12. But his bowling and fielding could have led selectors to pick him as an allrounder.
Bhuvneshwar has a successful first-class record, 149 wickets at 26.02, and his showing in limited-overs series Pakistan and England, where he troubled the batsmen with his swing bowling, was also exemplary.
The selection of R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha was a certainty. While Ashwin geared up for the forthcoming series by playing the BCCI Corporate Trophy tournament, Ojha toiled hard in the Irani Cup, where he picked up three wickets.
Selectors also went against making a radical change by not picking veteran opening batsman Wasim Jaffer, who has scored 915 runs in 12 innings this domestic season so far and reeled off 835 runs in seven matches (average of 76) during the Ranji Trophy.
Madhya Pradesh pace bowler Ishwar Pandey, who is the leading Ranji Trophy wicket-taker with 48 at 21.06 and collected 2 for 76 in 24 overs during Mumbai's first innings during the Irani Cup, was also overlooked.
India Squad: MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ajinkya Rahane, Ashok Dinda, Murali Vijay, Ishant Sharma