Rajkot: Opener Akash Chopra and pacemen Avishkar Salvi and Laxmipathy Balaji were on Saturday included in the 14-member Indian cricket team for the first Test against New Zealand, starting in Ahmedabad on October 8. All-rounder Sanjay Bangar, who had opened the innings for the last seven Tests, has been dropped from the squad, announced by Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) secretary S K Nair here. Mumbai leg-spinner Sairaj Bahutule and Punjab batsman Yuvraj Singh also found a place in the team.
Team: Sourav Ganguly (captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid (vice- captain), V V S Laxman, Akash Chopra, Parthiv Patel, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Laxmipathy Balaji, Avishkar Salvi, Sairaj Bahutule, Yuvraj Singh.
The selection committee meeting which continued for more than two hours and attended by new chairman Syed Kirmani alongwith Kirti Azad, Kiran More, Sanjay Jagdale and Pranab Roy, also decided to retain Parthiv Patel as the wicketkeeper. The 26-year-old Chopra, who has been a prolific scorer in domestic cricket, drew the attention of the selectors by coming up with two fine knocks against the Kiwis in the two three-day warm-up games. His superb century for the Board President's XI in the rain-marred first match at Visakhapatnam and a classy 66 for India 'A' here on Friday tilted the scale in his favour ahead of Shiv Sunder Das, Sadgopan Ramesh and Gautam Gambhir. Chopra's inclusion would mean a new opening combination, as he is almost certain to start the innings with his Ranji team captain Virender Sehwag. Bangar and Sehwag had opened the innings in the last seven Tests.
Tamil Nadu pacer Balaji and 21-year-old Mumbai speedster Salvi made it to the side largely due to the injuries to pace spearhead Javagal Srinath and Ashish Nehra, both of whom had played a crucial role in India's progress to the World Cup final in South Africa earlier this year. While the veteran fast bowler from Karnataka opted out of the Test series because of a troubled knee, Nehra is still nursing an ankle injury, sustained during the World Cup. The squad, captained by Sourav Ganguly, has three specialist fast bowlers and an equal number of spinners. Harbhajan Singh, who has fully recovered from his finger injury and leg-spinner Anil Kumble, will handle the spin department.
The Mumbai leg-spinner, who is also a useful lower-order batsman, has played just two Test matches for India so far. "We decided to blood a new player as the opening batsman this season Akash Chopra has performed well in both the lead-up games to the Test match. We believe he can carry on the good work," Kirmani said after the announcement of the team. "We had a long discussion on the choice of the third spinner. We decided to give Sairaj Bahutule the nod on the basis of his all-round ability," he said. The selectors also decided to persist with teenaged wicketkeeper Patel, who has already donned the gloves in seven Test matches. The team for the second Test, beginning in Mohali on October 16, would be picked in Ahmedabad on October 12.