Mumbai: Cheteshwar Pujara, whose international career was derailed after a knee injury sidelined him during the 2011 IPL, has been recalled to the Indian squad for the two Tests against New Zealand starting August 23. Pujara is one of several changes to the Test squad that was beaten 4-0 in Australia earlier this year, with Suresh Raina and Piyush Chawla being recalled in a 16-man squad. VVS Laxman has been retained, despite struggling in his last two overseas Test series.
Pujara, the 24-year-old batsman from Saurashtra, has not played Test cricket since January 2011 after a prolonged layoff following the injury sustained during IPL 4. His scores while captaining India A in the West Indies recently – 50, 96*, 67, 1, 33 and 5 – in difficult batting conditions left him well above his batting team-mates and have resulted in a place in India's Test side.
Pujara is certain to feature in the playing XI, but whether it will be at No. 3 or 6 is not certain. Virat Kohli, India's ODI vice-captain, who has made the No.3 spot his own in ODI cricket where he is averaging 73.28 this year. He is in the form of his young life and there is plenty of merit in pushing him up from No. 6 to 3.
Rohit Sharma, regarded as the most talented of the younger lot, has been dropped from the Test side after a dismal ODI series in Sri Lanka where he averaged 2.60 in five innings. Ajinkya Rahane has been retained and Raina, 25, recalled after being dropped following India's 4-0 whitewash in England last year. With Rahul Dravid gone and Laxman not guaranteed to last the season, the spotlight ahead of the BCCI selection meeting in Mumbai today was on the young crop of batsmen – namely Pujara, Rohit, Rahane and Manoj Tiwary. However, Raina's recent limited-overs form seems to have gone in his favor. In 15 Tests, Raina has scored 710 runs at 29.58.
The inclusion of Chawla, 23, is a surprise. The legspinner has not represented India in any format since the 2011 World Cup and his last Test appearance was in April 2008 against South Africa. Chawla became a content_cnious selection during the World Cup, but his 16 wickets in the fifth season of the IPL could have gone in his favor. Rahul Sharma, another legspinner, has been part of India's squads this year but the drug use controversy appears to have sidelined him.
Ishant Sharma, who underwent ankle surgery in March, has been included though he himself had expressed concern in June that it would take "two or three months" before he could resume competitive cricket. Zaheer was selected after a couple days at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore and Umesh Yadav held his place as the third fast bowler.
The Indian selectors have retained faith in the spin duo of R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha as they did in India's previous two Test series. As expected, Sachin Tendulkar made himself available and Virender Sehwag was deemed fit after missing two limited-overs games in Sri Lanka with a glute strain. There is no backup wicketkeeper in the squad.
India squad: MS Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Pragyan Ojha, Umesh Yadav, Piyush Chawla.