Mumbai: Karnataka's in-form young opener K L Rahul has staked a strong claim for inclusion in India's Test squad to Australia which is to be picked here tomorrow by the five-man selection committee headed by Sandeep Patil.
The two centuries (185 and 130) he hit for South Zone, albeit in a losing cause, in the Duleep Trophy final against Central Zone could not have come at a better time for the 23-year-old Bengaluru-born batsman.
The selectors are bound to give a serious thought of including this Karnataka youngster as the third opener in the squad behind first-choice Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan - who did the duty in the first two Tests of the series that India lost to England last season.
Rahul is expected to be included as the reserve opener in place of the experienced 33-year-old Gautam Gambhir who looked out of sorts and failed to cross 20 in his four innings when included in place of Dhawan in the last two Tests in England. Rahul, however, could face some competition from his teammate Robin Uthappa who scored a ton against East Zone in the same competition but failed to prosper in the summit clash at Delhi.
The selectors would also deliberate on the choice of the second wicket keeper between Wriddhiman Saha, who was the reserve keeper In England, and Namaj Ojha who replaced the former midway through the tour after Saha was injured. Ojha has forced his way into reckoning after scoring a double hundred in the Duleep Trophy game against North Zone but did not do well with the bat in the final against South.
Saha, on the other hand, is keeping wickets in the absence of the rested Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the ODI series in progress against Sri Lanka and seems to hold the edge. The selectors are bound to think long and hard at the bowling combination and it will depend on whether they opt for a smaller squad or a jumbo squad of 18 that they picked for England.
The five-man panel is bound to choose a battery of pace bowlers for the bouncy wickets in Australia but injuries to Mohammed Shami and Varun Aaron, the former before the start of the ODI series against Lanka and the latter in yesterday's opener in Cuttack, has queered the pitch a bit. Both should make the squad if the medical opinion states they will be fit from the beginning of the tour for which the Indian squad is set to depart on November 21.
Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar would spearhead the attack, and Stuart Binny is expected to be picked as the pace bowling all-rounder, as was the case in England, especially after picking up seven wickets in the Duleep game against East. The Bengaluru bowler missed the Duleep final after he was named in the squad for the one-day warm-up game against the visiting Sri Lanka team here.
A question mark hangs over Rajasthan's big and burly Pankaj Singh who bowled reasonably well in England but did not generate enough pace to worry the batsmen. Ishwar Pandey was the additional pace bowling option not used in the Test series in England.
But with the cupboard empty and with injuries to Shami and Aaron, Singh could get the nod ahead of his younger MP competitor who failed to grab a wicket in the Duleep final while the Rajasthan bowler got five. There could be a surprise in the spin department though Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja appear to be the front runners to take two spots.
The third spot - if the squad size is big enough - could go to an untested, orthodox leg break bowler like Karn Sharma of UP, who picked up four wickets for India A in the one-off warm-up against Lanka, or even Karnataka youngster Shreyas Gopal who has come into the picture of late. It all depends on whether the selectors feel there's no point in including the more experienced but inconsistent Amit Mishra or Piyush Chawla for the leggie's spot.
The middle and lower order batting line-up is more or less settled with Rohit Sharma showing in the warm-up game against Sri Lanka that he has recovered fully from the finger injury he had sustained in England. He is set to retain his middle order slot.
Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkyha Rahane, Rohit and skipper Dhoni would fill up the middle order slots. India will play the Test series opener in Brisbane from December 4 and the remaining games in the best-of-four rubber are to be played in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.