Whenever there is a team selection prior to a big series, a lot of expectation is in the air, be it the players, the selectors or the fans. With Team India in transition mode, the onus is on the selectors to spot new players who can take the Indian team forward. But it has to be blend of experience and youth, and that's where overlooking Wasim Jaffer for the Test series against Australia is a bit surprising.
After two overseas series loss and the recent home thrasing by England, the MS Dhoni-led team is under pressure for the upcoming four-Test series against Australia starting February 22. The conclusion of the Ranji Trophy season and Irani Cup on Sunday provided the selectors chance to award the performers and slam the door on non-performers, which is where the axe fell on Gautam Gambhir.
The inclusion of Shikhar Dhawan is purely based on performance, but if that's the case, how does one react to the non-inclusion of Wasim Jaffer? The prolific Mumbai veteran scored 835 runs at an average of 75.90, which included three centuries and four half-centuries, in the Ranji Trophy. Two of those hundreds came in the knockout stages, helping Mumbai to their 40th Ranji Trophy title. If the selectors were waiting for the Irani Cup, then Jaffer scored 80 and an unbeaten century against the Rest of India - leaving no doubt whatsoever about his form.
The Mumbai batsman was passed over in favour of Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay despite outscoring both in the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season.
On the other hand, Murali Vijay, who was already part of the squad against England and also got a century (116) in the first innings of the Irani Cup, scored just 138 runs in five Ranji Trophy matches at an average of 17.25, with the highest being 42. Even Dhawan's Ranji Trophy stats this season look pale in comparison to Jaffer's. The Delhi opener scored 461 runs, as against 835 by Jaffer, from seven matches at an average of 51.22.
In five days' time, Jaffer would be celebrating his 35th birthday and a call from the selectors would have been a deserving gift for the elegant right-hander. On what ground he was overlooked can't be said as of now, but if age was the factor, then this shows a myopic approach by the selectors, who otherwise insist that they focus on a balance of youth and experience in the team.
On the bowling front, selection of Harbhajan highlights the dearth of top spinners in India. In five matches this season, the offspinner claimed 16 wickets at 32.25. Moreover, there are already three spinners (R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Ravindra Jadeja) in the squad. So Harbhajan making it to the squad on the back of his good track record against Australia makes little sense. Not to forget how the three-spin attack backfired against England.
The pace attack gets a new look in the form of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, who impressed in the ODIs and can swing the ball both ways. But will he be effective at his pace when the ball loses its shine remains to be seen in the longer version. Ashok Dinda is another questionable selection, provided how many chances he has already wasted. Shami Ahmed would have been a better choice in place of Dinda, looking at how he held his own against Pakistan in the ODIs and didn't get overawed by the occasion.
In a home series there was no need of four openers either, provided Ajinkya Rahane moves to the middle order. But one player who should be cursing his luck is Suresh Raina despite innings of 134 and 71 in the Irani Cup and a good run in the one-dayers. But perhaps it seems the Sandeep Patil-led selection panel is keeping an eye on the South Africa tour while picking squads on home soil and Raina's weakness against the short-pitched bowling went against him.
All in all, it's a mixed selection. While the inclusion of Bhuvneshwar, Ravindra Jadeja and Dhawan indicates a forward approach by the selectors, Jaffer - who piled on the runs in domestic cricket - deserved one last chance before he hangs his boots.