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Gautam Gambhir likely to return

Gautam Gambhir

Calcutta: Gautam Gambhir may be drafted in as the third opener in the Test side as the national selectors meet in Vadodara on Monday to pick the squads for the tour of South Africa, which begins on December 5.

The selection committee was scheduled to meet in Visakhapatnam on Sunday, during the second ODI against West Indies, but the meeting was rescheduled.

The Test series begins on December 18 and the BCCI is planning to send the Test specialists to South Africa a few days in advance.

India are likely to send 16 players for the two Tests in South Africa. This will be India’s first Test series since the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar.

While the ODI squad is likely to be selected on expected lines, the Test squad could have a few interesting selections.

Gambhir’s chances of being selected as a reserve opener brightened after his match-winning hundred for Delhi against Haryana. Gambhir has scored 372 runs in six Ranji Trophy innings this season. His experience will also come in handy in what is expected to be a tough tour.

With Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan having sealed the opening combination, Gambhir will be vying for the reserve opener’s place as Ajinkya Rahane has been earmarked as a middle-order batsman in the longer format.

While Virat Kohli will be promoted to No. 4 after Sachin’s retirement, Rahane may be inducted in the playing XI as No. 6 batsman with skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni coming in at No. 7.

Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma are automatic choices at No. 3 and 5, respectively.

The bowling composition is still not clear. Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have already sealed their spots in the playing XI with some good performances. Ishant Sharma is also in the fray after his nine-wicket haul against Haryana in a Ranji Trophy match.

Umesh Yadav has only got four wickets in two Ranji Trophy games for Vidarbha but his pace is something that Dhoni would be looking out for.

The fifth pacer’s slot will be an interesting choice as Zaheer Khan’s fate hangs in the balance. He will have to fight it out with the likes of Ranganath Vinay Kumar and Jaydev Unadkat.

If Zaheer is not a certainty in the playing XI, he might not be included in the squad. Zaheer’s exclusion from the BCCI contracts may also be an indicator that the selectors are looking beyond the 34-year-old left-arm seamer.

Offie Ravichandran Ashwin is likely to be the lone spinner in the playing XI. If there is room for a second spinner, then the fight will be between Ravindra Jadeja and Pragyan Ojha. The left-arm spinner got 10 wickets in his last Test appearance in Mumbai recently.

There is unlikely to be place for a third specialist spinner.

The other interesting slot will be for an additional batsman or a wicketkeeper. Wriddhiman Saha has been India’s second choice in Test matches on away tours while Dinesh Karthik has donned the big gloves in the ODIs. In the ongoing Ranji Trophy, Karthik has scored only 85 runs in four innings without a single fifty while Saha has scored 266 runs from five knocks with three half-centuries.

In case the selectors go for a specialist batsman, Suresh Raina, who has a Grade A contract, could be drafted in as he is a certainty in the shorter version.