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Gambhir chopped, Bhajji in team

Under-performing opener Gautam Gambhir was shown the door with Shikhar Dhawan being his surprise replacement in the 15-member Indian cricket squad, announced on Sunday for the first two Tests against Australia starting February 22 in Chennai.

Senior off-spinner Harbhajan Singh rode on past reputation to return to the squad to form a three-pronged spin attack also comprising R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha. With Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav and Irfan Pathan recovering from injuries, the selectors opted to give rookie paceman Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who impressed in the limited overs-series against England and Pakistan, his maiden Test call.

The selection committee, headed by Sandeep Patil, deliberated for over two hours at the BCCI headquarters and made three changes to the squad that played against England in Nagpur in December. The 32-year-old Harbhajan, who was dropped from the team after the lost third Test against England in November, has been brought back, keeping in mind his excellent record against Australia.

The off-spinner, who has 408 wickets in 99 Tests, is a proven performer against the Australians especially on the dustbowls at home and that reputation alone seems to have worked for him given that his domestic form this season has hardly been impressive.

On the other hand, the 31-year-old Gambhir, for whom a T est hundred has proved elusive for over three years now, became the biggest casualty of India's 1-2 home debacle against England last year.

Gambhir will, however, lead India A in a practice match against Australia from February 16 to 18 in place of Dhawan.

Interestingly, Sehwag has also not been in the best of form and missed a chance to get some runs under his belt by skipping the Irani Cup tie due to a stomach bug. But the selectors have retained him with Murali Vijay and Dhawan being the other openers.

The 27-year-old Dhawan, set to be among the reserves, has been in good form in the domestic circuit, striking a hundred for Delhi in a warm-up match against England last year. The 28-year-old Vijay, on the other hand, had cracked a century in the ongoing Irani Cup match against Mumbai.

SQUAD: MS Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Shikhar Dhawan, C Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, B Kumar, Ajinkya Rahane, Ashok Dinda, Murali Vijay, Ishant Sharma


COMEBACKS ARE ALWAYS TOUGH: HARBHAJAN


Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who on Sunday made a comeback to the Test side, said comebacks are always tough in Tests and hoped to make a difference in the four-match series against Australia. ‘Comebacks are always tough. As long as you continue to work hard and believe you can make a difference and do well in international cricket, you can make a comeback,’ said Harbhajan after the end of the Irani Cup match. Harbhajan, a veteran of 99 Tests, said he always enjoys playing against Australia. ‘It's always nice to play against Australia. Apart from (Michael) Clarke and (Shane) Watson, no one played much Test cricket. This would be a challenging series for them and, hopefully, we will put them under pressure from the first day of the Test match,’ he added.


TIME TO SHOW SOME STEEL: GAMBHIR

Gautam Gambhir has urged his fans and well-wishers not to ‘sympathize’ with him for being dropped from the Test team as he is ready to ‘fight’in order to earn his place back national squad. ‘No sympathies plz,’ the diminutive opener tweeted after the news of his exclusion. The left-hander will be leading India A against the Australians in a three-day first-class tie and the 31-year-old Delhi lad is looking forward to that game. ‘Lookin forward to training n then d india a game. Chin up guys, its time to show some steel. Come on. Had my bak to d wall in d past 2, dis is no difrent. Will fight,’ he commented. The KKR captain however didn’t forget to congratulate his junior statemate Shikhar Dhawan as well as Murali Vijay for getting selected for the first two Tests. ‘Very hapy 4 vijay n shikhar,’ he wrote.
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