Ravaged by injuries to key players, India infused fresh blood into its Test squad by naming Karnataka pacer Abhimanyu Mithun and Bengal wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha for the first Test against South Africa beginning in Nagpur on February 6.
With experienced batsman like Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh ruled out of the series because of injuries, the selectors recalled Tamil Nadu middle-order batsman S Badrinath in the team and dropped wicketkeeper batsman Dinesh Karthik.
While 20-year-old Mithun was rewarded for his splendid show in the domestic circuit by emerging as the highest wicket taker in the Ranji Trophy season, the inclusion of the diminutive Saha came as a surprise.
Apart from Mithun and Saha’s inclusion, there were no other suprises in the squad announced by BCCI secretary N Srinivasan after a meeting of the selection committee here.
Dravid, who sustained a face injury in the second Test against Bangladesh, has been advised rest for three weeks while Yuvraj Singh has also been ruled out of the Test series due to an injury to his left wrist.
Stylish batsman VVS Laxman, who had also suffered a finger injury during the Test series against Bangladesh, has recovered sufficiently to be drafted into the squad.
Uttar Pradesh paceman Sudeep Tyagi, who also featured in the squad that toured Bangladesh, has retained his place largely because S Sreesanth’s injury.
Tamil Nadu batsman Murali Vijay, who toured Bangladesh as a reserve opener, retained his spot in the squad and is likely to play in the middle order like he did in the second Test against Bangladesh as a replacement for Laxman.
“We have selected the best possible team considering the number of injuries that the Indian team have suffered in the recent series,” selection committee chairman Krishnamachari Srikkanth said.
“The team has been selected just for the first Test. We will take a call on the team for the second Test after getting the fitness report of the injured players,” he added.
Srikkanth said Dravid was very keen to play but the doctors have advised him rest as precautionary measure. “Dravid was very keen to play but the Doctors have advised him rest as a precautionary measure,” he said.
“Dhoni had a few niggles during the Bangladesh tour and had even missed the first Test. Even in the ODIs he had a few problems with his fitness, so we have included Wriddhiman Saha as a back up. If in the morning of the match, Dhoni is unavailable, we will have Saha as a replacement,” he said.
Regarding Mithun’s inclusion, the chief selector said, “He has done extremely well in the domestic season and we really needed a fast bowler for the Tests, so we have included him.”
The 15-member squad has six specialist batsman, three spinners and four pacemen and two wicketkeepers in captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Saha.
While Harbhajan Singh will spearhead the spin department, left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha and leg-spinner Amit Mishra will play the supporting role.
The pace department will be lead by Zaheer Khan with Ishant Sharma, Mithun and Tyagi being the other pacers.
With Yuvraj and Dravid rendered unavailable, the middle-order lacks experience, which will put more responsibility on stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman.
The opening combination looks settle with Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir in good form.
The South Africans will play two Tests — Nagpur (Feb 6-10) and Kolkata (Feb 14-18) — and three one-dayers in Jaipur, Kanpur and Ahmedabad during their tour of India.
Indian Team for the First Test: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Murali Vijay, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, S Badrinath, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (C), Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra, Sudeep Tyagi, Pragyan Ojha, Abhimanyu Mithun, Wriddhiman Saha.