After several months out of the Indian cricket team, during which time a crop of younger, fitter and extremely driven young batsmen and bowlers have made rapid strides, the sidelined trio of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer Khan was on Tuesday given a lifeline. That lifeline came in the form of their names being penciled in for two four-day games for India A against West Indies A later in September.
Considering the manner in which Sehwag, Gambhir and Zaheer were dropped from the Test side earlier this year, their names featuring in the India A squad can be seen as a boost to all three. India A squads are regarded as the second-best India team and series played are often seen as auditions for the Test side. In that regard, that the three players are part of the squad for two first-class matches can be considered notable.
India have a busy year ahead, with Australia landing in October for seven ODIs and a Twenty20 international and then full tours to South Africa and New Zealand. Post the IPL next year, a crammed tour of England awaits, in which India will play five Tests in a row for the first time in over a decade. In late 2014, the team travels to Australia where a few months later the World Cup will be held.
Sehwag, Gambhir and Zaheer had previously been overlooked for India A's tour of South Africa recently and the current series against New Zealand A at home. While Sehwag has kept a very low profile, Zaheer spent time in the south of France with Yuvraj Singh, another cast away who was named as captain of India A for the limited-overs matches against West Indies A, working hard on his fitness. Gambhir turned out for a handful of matches for county side Essex, scoring a century in his latest first-class innings. Having returned home for personal reasons last week, Gambhir is headed back to Essex.
All this bears a striking resemblance to what unfolded one year ago. In September 12, the same trio decided to turn out for their respective state sides for the initial few matches of the Ranji Trophy season in a bid to get into form ahead of a four-Test series at home against England. At the time, each of Sehwag, Gambhir and Zaheer were under pressure to justify their places in India's Test XI. Sehwag had not scored a century in 30 Test innings while Gambhir's dry run with the bat had stretched much more than Sehwag's; he had not scored a century in 40 innings dating back to January 2010 against Bangladesh. Zaheer too had not been in good form, failing to take five wickets in a Test innings since October 2010, and his fitness and endurance were a concern too. Since the 2011 World Cup he had played just seven Tests, breaking down in England.
While each did enough to keep their respective places in the Test side, their struggles continued at the international level. The 31-year-old Gambhir, having been India's preferred opener in all forms of cricket since for the past few season, was left out of the Test squad against Australia in February and then overlooked for the Champions Trophy and the triangular in the West Indies this past summer, and then for the ODI tour of Zimbabwe.
Sehwag, who since April 2012 has averaged 31.38 in Tests with a solitary century, was dropped for the last two Tests against Australia earlier this year and then excluded from the list of 30 probables for the Champions Trophy. In the same period, the 34-year-old managed 183 runs at 30.50 in six ODIs. Zaheer, 34, was axed from the Test team in December last year, during the home series against England that India lost. His last limited-overs international was in October 2012.
Though his Test career looks to be over, there is hope for Yuvraj after being named India A captain for three one-dayers and a Twenty20 against West Indies A. He too was dropped from the Test team at the same time as Zaheer was and did not feature in the Champions Trophy in June. He still has the 2015 World Cup at the back of his mind, Yuvraj recently admitted.
Time will tell whether the naming of these four hugely successful but down-on-their-luck cricketers in the India A squad is really significant. For now, each can only hope to come good when West Indies A touch down in India.
Have your say: Do you think these four players can make it back to the Indian team?