Chennai, February 13:

India’s cricket selectors on Friday picked Lakshmipathy Balaji for the New Zealand tour, after a four-year Test absence for the fit-again seamer.

Balaji, 27, who last played a Test match in March, 2005 before suffering a career-threatening stress fracture to his back, was named in a 16-man squad for the three-Test series against the Kiwis.

The Tamil Nadu seamer, regarded as one of India’s brightest new-ball prospects, claimed 27 wickets in eight Tests before being laid low by injury. Balaji joins a five-man seam attack that includes 20-year-old rookie Dhawal Kulkarni, who took 41 wickets in his maiden first-class season to help Mumbai win the Ranji Trophy last month.

The selectors, who announced the team through a media release, retained the nucleus of the squad that beat Ricky Ponting’s Australia 2-1 and England 1-0 in home Test series

late last year.

But only six players — Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Venkatsai Laxman, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh — have played a Test on New Zealand soil before.

The selectors also picked a separate squads for two Twenty20 matches and five one-dayers. Tendulkar will be replaced by Ravindra Jadeja for the shortest version of the game.

The last time India toured New Zealand in December 2002, they lost both Tests. New Zealand also went on to win the subsequent one-day international series 5-2.

India open the six-week tour with the Twenty20 internationals on February 25 and 27 before playing the one-day series against the hosts from March 3. The tourists, who will not play any practice matches, start the three-Test series in Hamilton on March 18.