The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Agarkar not available for ODIs
- ‘Struggling’ Kumble as good as out of Pakistan tour’s first leg
- Zaheer fit, but needs a week to go flat out

Calcutta: Much as he would have liked, Sourav Ganguly won’t be able to lead the strongest Indian team in the five ODIs versus Pakistan. The script should be different when the three Tests begin.

According to The Telegraph’s sources, Ajit Agarkar isn’t available, nor is it likely that Anil Kumble is going to be fit in time for the March 10 departure.

Agarkar couldn’t be contacted, but is understood to have told a confidant (late on Sunday) that he won’t risk “cutting it too fine.” Moreover, Board consultant Dr Anant Joshi has “suggested” a fresh scan on the allrounder’s left fibula.

With Agarkar not available, Ashish Nehra will benefit.

There’s no official confirmation on Kumble, but it appears he is “struggling” with his bowling shoulder. As a source put it: “The rehab has been slow… For all intents and purposes, count the star leggie out.”

The Kumble ‘development’ is really bad news because, now, the five national selectors have the unenviable task of choosing two spinners worthy of the most high-profile series in recent years. They meet here on Monday afternoon.

One learns anybody could make the XV — even Murali Kartik, who did absolutely nothing in Australia. Also in contention are Sarandeep Singh, Sunil Joshi, Ramesh Powar and Kulamani Parida. Unbelievably, Nikhil Chopra’s name is doing the rounds as well.

“Frankly, nobody really deserves to be picked… Yet, we’ll have to choose two because the squad must have that many specialist spinners,” remarked a hassled selector, who preferred anonymity.

That we’ve been reduced to this state is crushing.

Zaheer Khan, however, is “fit” but needs “around a week” to consistently go flat out. Dr Joshi is expected to convey that before the selectors begin deliberations.

The left-arm quick suffered a right hamstring injury during the Test series in Australia and hasn’t played competitive cricket for eight weeks. He’s a certainty, though, as also Irfan Pathan and Lakshmipathy Balaji.

While there’s ‘confusion’ about the bowlers, the batsmen select themselves — a debate is only going to be over whether it should be Hemang Badani or Rohan Gavaskar.

Badani is more experienced, yet Gavaskar didn’t look out of sorts when opportunities came his way in the tri-series Down Under. He has backers, but it won’t surprise if the selectors prefer Badani.

The batsmen who can’t be dislodged are: Sourav, vice-captain Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, V.V.S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh plus Mohammed Kaif.

Kaif will be making a big-bracket comeback, after missing out on the last set of ODIs owing to a thumb injury during the Asian A championship in Calcutta two months ago.

Incidentally, it’s gathered that Parthiv Patel is under pressure to keep the specialist wicketkeeper’s place. Bihar’s Mahender Singh Dhoni and Hyderabad’s Ibrahim Khaleel have come into the picture.

As of now, the in-form Sridharan Sriram is a dark horse, while Dinesh Mongia may come into the frame.

The XV Scenario

Certainties: Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, V.V.S.Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Irfan Pathan, Lakshmipathy Balaji.

Under pressure: Parthiv Patel. However, could hold on.

Keen tussle: Between Hemang Badani and Rohan Gavaskar. Badani, though, may squeeze through.

Spinners: Possibly Sarandeep Singh... And anybody could make it.

May emerge strong contender: Mahender Singh Dhoni.

Dark horse: Sridharan Sriram.

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