Kolkata: The sword of Damocles hangs over middle order bat V V S Laxman as the national selectors meet on Monday to choose a 15-member Indian team for the forthcoming South Africa in World Cup. The stylish Hyderabad willower has weakened his case following a string of failures in both the Tests and One-dayers in the ongoing New Zealand trip, and his fortune now hinges on the persuasive skills of South Zone representative and selection panel chairman Brijesh Patel.
The drought of runs from Laxman's blade has come as a windfall for left-hander Dinesh Mongia, who has been in and out of the Indian team in recent months. Mongia's name is likely to be discussed in all seriousness on Monday, sources close to the selection committee said. The five selectors - Patel, Sanjay Jagdale (Central Zone), Kiran More (West), Kirti Azad (North) and Pranab Roy (East) - had earlier announced a 30-member probables list for the February-March quadrennial showpiece. Monday's meeting takes place a day ahead of the December 31 deadline set by the ICC for the participating teams to announce their final line-up.
The selectors also might deliberate on the failure of the Indians so far on the extremely fast and bouncy tracks in New Zealand before finalising the squad, as the wickets in South Africa are likely to be more or less of similar nature. The sources said that the team is likely to have seven specialist batsmen and three pacers along with two all-rounders and two spinners. While Rahul Dravid is all set to do duty behind the stumps, the battle for the second wicket-keeper's slot would be between teenager Parthiv Patel and Deep Dasgupta of Bengal.
The stakes seem heavily loaded in favour of Patel for his better wicket-keeping abilities, though East Zone representative Pranab Roy might try to push Dasgupta's case citing his batting capabilities. Apart from Dravid, the other specialist batsmen who select themselves are skipper Saurav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif. In the pace department, veteran Javagal Srinath and left-arm Zaheer Khan look certain to make the cut, with Ashish Nehra and Baroda medium fast bowler Rakesh Patel emerging as the prime contenders for inclusion as the third seamer.
However, veteran Venkatesh Prasad's name may also crop up, though it seems unlikely that the majority of the selectors would be rooting for the Karnataka pacer. Mumbai youngster Ajit Agarkar and Railwayman Sanjay Bangar look well poised to fill up the two all-rounder's slots. Apart from delivering his pace stuff, Agarkar can always be relied upon for his aggressive batting display, giving the Indian team management the option of utilising his services as a pinch hitter.
Bangar can easily be called the 'find of the year' for Indian cricket after proving his ability to tailor his game as per the needs of the team, and this has made his selection a mere formality. Offie Harbhajan Singh and veteran leggie Anil Kumble appear almost certain to join the South Africa-bound team as slow bowlers, though left- armer Murali Kartik's name may also come up.