Mumbai: The national cricket selectors face a tricky task of selecting the bowling combination when they meet here tomorrow to pick the Indian Test squad for Sachin Tendulkar`s farewell series against the West Indies next month.
While the focus of the series will be on Tendulkar, who will retire after completing 200 Tests, the selectors will be prompted to take stock of the bowling options and even look at a fit-again Zaheer Khan, who picked up five wickets in Mumbai`s Ranji Trophy opener against Haryana.
Zaheer off late has been out of the national team with injuries and fitness issues and last played an international Test in December 2012, against England.
But the 35-year-old left-arm pacer is in better shape now after undergoing a grueling fitness training in France.
Zaheer`s inclusion will give a major boost to India`s pace department which has been struggling in the ongoing ODI series against Australia.
Ishant Sharma looked far from impressive in the ODIs against Australia and is likely to get the boot, while Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, who opened the bowling with the lanky Delhi bowler against, is lacking in pace.
With South Africa tour in the back of their mind, Sandeep Patil and company would be tempted to include highly-exprienced Zaheer along with the pace duo of Umesh Yadav and Shami Ahmed.
But Asok Dinda, who was in the Test squad against Australia, is certain to be ignored.
Senior off-spinner Harbhajan Singh is also likely to be included in the squad, having been part of the 14-strong outfit in the final Test against Australia, along with R Ashwin ? who has not done well in ODIs of late but was the man-of-the-series with 29 wickets in the four games against Australia.
Pragyan Ojha was part of the squad in the Test series against Australia but did not play a single game, as Ravindra Jadeja not only displaced him but also took 24 wickets in the four games, and it would be surprising if the former is also included instead of leggie Amit Mishra.
On the batting front, M Vijay, the highest run getter (430) among Indian batsmen in the last Test series against Australia in Febraury-March this year, has done precious little since then.
However, with senior challenger Virender Sehwag not in the best of touch, the selectors might have little choice but to include the Tamil Nadu batsman to launch the innings alongside Shikhar Dhawan. The five wise men may also be tempted to include another discard Gautam Gambhir as the third opener.
Rohit Sharma, the talented Mumbai batsman, and his teammate Ajinkya Rahane are two others who can be tried out. The former has been opening in the ODIs and T20s for the country with Dhawan.
Rahane, who made an unimpressive Test debut against Australia in the final Test at Delhi, has good experience of opening in first-class cricket, what if he played in the middle order in his lone appearance.
The selectors will have plenty to mull about the opening combination as the tough tour to South Africa, where the innings launchers would be tested severely by the Protea pace attack, is also round the corner.
The remaining middle order batting slots are more or less fixed with Cheteshwar Pujara, ignored for the ODI series against the West Indies, set to make a comeback into the national team.
Tendulkar, who will play his 199th Test at Kolkata and landmark 200th at his home ground Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai and Virat Kohli would take the number 4 and 5 spots, while the number 6 slot may go to Rahane or Rohit depending on the selectors` choice for the opening position.
Neither Suresh Raina, who got dropped after the two-match series against New Zealand in August 2012, nor ODI comeback man Yuvraj Singh looks likely to get the nod for the middle-order slots.
The first Test is from November 6-10 at the Eden Gardens and the second and final match at the Wankhede from November 14-18.