Zaheer Khan's exclusion from Windies series puzzles coach

With 21 wickets from 13 Tests, Ishant Sharma should consider himself lucky at retaining his place in the Indian team for the two-Test series against the West Indies.

Zaheer Khan
Zaheer Khan

Going by his wayward bowling in the ongoing ODI series against Australia in which he has conceded 189 runs in 24 overs, claiming only two wickets in three matches, the lanky pacer was fortunate to even be considered for the forthcoming series.

On the other hand, Zaheer Khan, who is gradually returning to form, could not find a place in the 15-member squad for the series which will see Sachin Tendulkar calling time on his illustrious career.

Ever since the left-arm pacer was dropped after the third Test against England in Kolkata in December, Zaheer has carefully charted his plan to return to international cricket with intensive training programmes in France and South Africa.

He resumed competitive cricket in early October, playing a couple of matches for India ‘A’ against the West Indies ‘A’. He ended up with seven wickets in two matches which included a four for 59 in the second innings of the final match.

Ishant Sharma and Sudhir Naik
Ishant Sharma and Sudhir Naik

On the eve of the selection meeting, Zaheer finished with a match haul of five wickets in the Ranji Trophy opener for Mumbai against Haryana at Lahli. “Zaheer should have definitely been picked for the West Indies series.

He has performed well and has also shown that he has match fitness for Test cricket. In his case, fitness was the prime concern which he has already proven. It is surprising that Ishant Sharma was still persisted with despite poor form,” Zaheer’s club coach and mentor Sudhir Naik told MiD DAY.

“Since his return to competitive cricket, Zaheer has bowled around 80-90 overs. I also spoke to him before the Ranji season started and he said he was 100 per cent fit,” added Naik, who is also the chief of the Mumbai senior selection committee.

Zaheer for SA tour?
The former India cricketer assumed that the selectors might want to preserve Zaheer for the challenging South Africa tour in December. “The only logic I can make out for this decision is to keep Zaheer fresh for the South Africa tour.

Sandeep Patil
Chairman of selectors Sandeep Patil arrives for the selection committee meeting at the Cricket Centre yesterday. Pic/Atul Kamble

Wickets in India are generally on the slower side and Zaheer might have to bend his back more for wickets. So, the selectors will want his services for the South Africa series,” said Naik.

Apart from Ishant and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Sandeep Patil & Co brought back pacer Umesh Yadav while Mohammed Shami was drafted into the Test squad for the first time.

However, Sanjay Patel, the honorary secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) said Zaheer’s name was discussed in the selection meeting.

When asked about selectors persisting with Ishant despite poor show, Patel shot back: “Performance cannot be judged by the media. Let the job be handled by the selection committee. And there are so many other criteria.

One bad performance or one or two bad overs does not mean that the player is not good. Still (the) team has got faith in Ishant and we are sure that he will improve on whatever mistakes he has made.”

Former chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar too defended Ishant’s inclusion. “Ishant is still young and it is just a few bad performances. He is a good bowler overall. He deserved a second opportunity,” said Vengsarkar.

Meanwhile, all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja was advised rest for a shoulder strain. Jadeja’s absence created an opening for the third spinner. Leg-spinner Amit Mishra, who last played a Test in 2011, was drafted into the squad in his place.

The squad
MS Dhoni (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Pragyan Ojha, Amit Mishra, Ajinkya Rahane, Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami, Rohit Sharma, Ishant Sharma 

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