Calcutta: Harbhajan Singh has been named captain of the 15-member Rest of India squad, which also includes Gautam Gambhir for the Irani Cup tie against Ranji Trophy champions Karnataka, in Bangalore, starting on Sunday.
However, the two other India discards — Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag — were once again ignored from the squad that includes the premier performers of this season’s Ranji Trophy.
Having taken 22 wickets in his last five Ranji appearances this season, Harbhajan had captained Punjab to the semi-finals where they lost to Karnataka.
He might not have had a devastating effect on the rival batsmen, but the 33-year-old did come up with timely contributions that turned out to be extremely useful for Punjab. Harbhajan finished with match figures of nine for 137 versus Odisha, which Punjab won by an innings and 48 runs.
Against Mumbai, too, Harbhajan had commendable match figures of eight for 157. But poor batting led to Punjab’s downfall in that game. In the semi-finals too, Punjab batsmen failed to cash in on a solid start, which happened to be the main reason behind their undoing.
Nonetheless, handing the Rest of India captaincy reins to Harbhajan does suggest that an impressive showing in the Irani Cup may once again brighten his prospects of an India recall, at least for the longer version.
Pacer Ashok Dinda, who was pivotal in securing Bengal a Ranji semis berth, has also earned a place in the squad.Finishing with 40 wickets, Dinda did wonderfully well to ensure Bengal did not feel the absence of Mohammed Shami.
His 10-wicket haul against Uttar Pradesh in the group stage raised hopes of Bengal’s qualification to the knockout stage.
Thereafter, in the quarter-final match against Railways, Dinda again played a leading role, finishing with eight wickets that enabled Bengal to clinch a thrilling 48-run victory and a semi-final berth.
Gambhir, who had scored close to 600 runs this season, is likely to open with promising Punjab opener Jiwanjyot Singh.
Among the other pacers, Rajasthan’s Pankaj Singh, Jharkhand’s Varun Aaron and Railways’ Anureet Singh have made it to the squad as well.
Anureet’s performance was a significant factor that helped Railways reach the Ranji quarter finals. A notable exclusion was that of Himachal Pradesh seamer Rishi Dhawan, the highest wicket-taker with 49 scalps.
Apart from Harbhajan, the spin department will be taken care of by Amit Mishra, with Jammu and Kashmir captain Parvez Rasool being the third spinner.
The squad also includes Maharashtra’s Kedar Jadhav (1,223 runs), top-scorer for this season, along with his teammate Ankit Bawne, the promising Baba Aparajith of Tamil Nadu, Mandeep Singh of Punjab and Odisha’s Natraj Behera.