Out-of-form opener Virender Sehwag was today axed from the Indian cricket squad for the third and fourth Test against Australia, paying the price for a prolonged run drought.
The squad was trimmed to 14 with the selectors deciding against picking a replacement for Sehwag, who has scored just 27 runs in his three innings during the ongoing series.
Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who has also been struggling to regain his peak form, was, however, retained in the squad announced by BCCI Secretary Sanjay Jagdale.
Barring the 34-year-old Sehwag's sacking, there were no other changes in the squad for the two matches to be played in Mohali (from March 14) and Delhi (from March 22) respectively.
India lead the four-match series 2-0 after thumping wins in Chennai and Hyderabad.
Sehwag's omission comes after his long-time opening partner Gautam Gambhir was shown the door, also due to poor form.
This paves the way for India to have a completely new opening pair featuring neither of the two veterans, who have occupied the top two batting slots since 2004. Together they have scored 4412 runs in 87 innings and are ranked fifth in the all-time list of top opening pairs with an average of 52.52.
In the absence of Sehwag, Shikhar Dhawan could get a chance to open the innings with Murali Vijay, who cemented his place with a gritty hundred in the second Test in Hyderabad, which India won by an innings and 135 runs.
Ajinkya Rahane is another opener who is in the squad but chief selector Sandeep Patil had earlier indicated that he has been chosen as a middle-order batsman.
Even though India registered commanding victories in the first two Tests, the opening partnerships between Sehwag and Vijay could produce only 11, 16 and 17 runs.
Sehwag had failed to fire in five consecutive Tests after getting a hundred in the opening game of the home series against England at Ahmedabad in November-December last year.
He was unable to score even a half-century in two home Tests against New Zealand. During India's last overseas tour, in Australia, Sehwag scored just 198 runs in eight innings.
The rest of the line-up was expectedly retained on the basis of impressive performances.
Save for Sehwag, no other batsman looked like facing the selectors' axe as they came up with solid performances in the first two Tests.
Cheteshwar Pujara, with a double hundred in Hyderabad, was never in doubt, neither was Virat Kohli, who announced his return to form with a hundred in the Chennai Test.
Among the bowlers, spin spearhead R Ashwin has been the most impressive with 18 wickets so far.
Harbhajan, on the other hand, is trying to rediscover the vintage form that got him over 400 Test wickets. In the ongoing series, the bowler so far has five wickets in his kitty.
That Harbhajan would not be dropped was quite clear when skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni stated that the veteran spinner was improving with every performance and had listed the difficulties faced by seniors while coming back.
Young pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar has managed to impress with his conviction in his debut Test series but Ishant Sharma will have to do more after a rather ordinary effort so far.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain/keeper), Sachin Tendulkar, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ashok Dinda, Harbhajan Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Pragyan Ojha and Ishant Sharma.