India's ICC Champions Trophy squad was a blueprint of the 2015 World Cup and the young Indian team did exceedingly well. Excluding seniors like Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan for the Champions Trophy and the subsequent tri-series in the West Indies hinted at the dawn of a new era for India in the 50-over format, and whispers of the being the end of the road for seniors in ODIs were doing the rounds. The selectors have once again overlooked them for the Zimbabwe ODIs and this could be a telling blow to their careers.
The quartet of Viru, Gauti, Yuvi and Zak - as they are popularly known - was an integral part of India's 2011 World Cup-winning squad. After a slump in form, injury to some and the subsequent axe, they must have nurtured hopes of selectors giving them another chance in the low-profile Zimbabwe tour, for which some of the first-XI players have been rested. But Sandeep Patil & Co, who had initially dropped the under-performing stars before the England series at home in 2012, continued with their 'looking ahead' approach and have rewarded a few youngsters for their consistent performances in the domestic circuit.
With Manoj Tiwary again unfortunately out with an injury and captain MS Dhoni too being ruled out just ahead of the squad announcement, it was believed that Gambhir had an outside chance of making a comeback, but that was not to be. Ambati Rayudu, called in as a cover for injured Dhoni in the ongoing tri-series in the Caribbean, has also been included in the squad for Zimbabwe. Mumbai batsman Ajinkya Rahane too gets a look in, selected as an opener after fading away slightly despite a strong start to his ODI career. Though Murali Vijay was dropped for the Zimbabwe tour, the Tamil Nadu opener was included in the India A squad for the South Africa tour. But no sign of any 'test' for the seniors in the A team either.
"We have the nucleus of 2015 World Cup in place. If you think you still can be part of it, prove it." Is that what selectors have told the seniors by keeping them out for Zimbabwe tour?
Sehwag was dropped from the ODI squad for the first three matches of the five-ODI series against England earlier this year, effectively ending Sehwag's limited-overs career. With him being overlooked for the low-profile Zimbabwe tour as well, it looks like Sehwag may not don the blue again.
The 2011 World Cup hero Yuvraj went through a lot off the field and since then the flamboyant middle-order batsman has not been the same. His career in the Test arena is virtually over and a string of averages performances in IPL 6 for Pune Warriors made sure he wasn't recalled for the Champions Trophy, tri-series or the Zimbabwe tour.
Cheteshwar Pujara's comeback in the ODI setup up after regaining fitness also hints at the fact that selectors have belief in the Saurashtra player evolving into an ODI player after performing exceptionally in the longer format.
But the real winner here has been Jammu & Kashmir allrounder Parvez Rasool, who has been included in the squad ahead of Rahul Sharma as the second spinner behind Amit Mishra. After a consistent Ranji Trophy season where he took 33 wickets, Rasool weaved his web against the visiting Australians with figures of 7 for 45 in a practice match in February. Rasool's fairytale continued as Pune Warriors handed him an IPL contract and now he is all set to wear the India colours.
Shahbaz Nadee, the highest wicket-taker in the last Ranji season among spinners, was overlooked for the Zimbabwe tour, but he has been included in the India A squad. Haryana pacer Mohit Sharma too has been rewarded for his good performance in IPL 6 for Chennai Super Kings. He picked up 20 wickets in 15 matches to emerge as one of the leading uncapped players of the tournament. Jaydev Unadkat, after just one Test in South Africa in 2010, was out of the reckoning but did well in the domestic season and then in the IPL to earn a recall, and he, along with Sharma, will assist Vinay Kumar.
But there will be bitter taste in the mouth of Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvraj and Zaheer, who, it seems, have been told this by the selectors: "We have the nucleus of the 2015 World Cup in place. If you think you still can be part of it, prove it."
India squad to Zimbabwe: Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik, Cheteshwar Pujara, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Parvez Rasool, Shami Ahmed, Vinay Kumar, Jaidev Unadkat, Mohit Sharma
India A squad to South Africa: Cheteshwar Pujara (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha, Parvez Rasool, Shahbaz Nadeem, Mohammed Shami, Stuart Binny, Ishwar Chand Pandey, Jaidev Unadkat, Siddharth Kaul