Ravichandran Ashwin may eventually make it to the World Cup squad after being selected for the upcoming ODI series against Australia, ostensibly as cover for the injured Axar Patel. The champion off-spinner, whose white-ball appearances for India have been few and far between in recent times, is part of the 15-member outfit for the first two games, and one of the two reserves for the third match of the preparatory series. India play Australia at Mohali (September 22), Indore (September 24) and Rajkot (September 27).
Seniors players like skipper Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Hardik Pandya and Kuldeep Yadav will sit out the first two matches, before the provisional World Cup XI gets together for the third game in Rajkot. KL Rahul will lead the side in the first two matches. While Ashwin is still not officially part of India’s World Cup squad, changes can be made till September 28, after which any alteration will need the International Cricket Council’s approval.
It’s Ashwin’s inclusion that will be the talking point. When the world cup squad was announced, it gave an impression that it came from a fear of failure rather than a confident pursuit of success with the best resources in hand. They chose the pitches with care, selecting the potential slow turners against some of the bigger teams but then changed course, fretting about the lack of balance. They began to look for bowlers who can bat, and out went Yuzvendra Chahal and Ashwin too was overlooked. It did jar because if the conditions abet turn, Ashwin the batsman is more than capable to score runs as his game against spin is better than many in the lower half.
It remains to be seen if Ashwin, one of the greatest match-winners for India in Test history, but who had been considered surplus to requirements in ODI and T20I cricket, makes it to the home World Cup at the eleventh hour. At least, it shows that team management are evaluating their choices and are open to rethink if necessary.
Fellow off-spinner Washington Sundar has also been included in the mix and even played Sunday’s Asia Cup final against Sri Lanka, without getting to bat or bowl, but is not likely to leapfrog Ashwin in the pecking order if the need arises.
Axar injured his hamstring during the Asia Cup match against Bangladesh in Colombo, and even though the selectors and team management are hopeful that he will recover in time, Ashwin was considered a viable option if a position fell vacant.
Rohit was confident that Ashwin’s experience will ensure that if he is indeed called up, lack of recent white-ball cricket won’t hamper his performance.
“Ashwin has been playing consistently in Tests, so game time is not a concern. If he is indeed required for the World Cup, it’s a good option to get him in. He has been playing relatively recently as well, even if it was in the Tamil Nadu Premier League. At this stage, it’s all in the head, more than the body,” the India skipper told the virtual press conference to announce the squad.
Giving some of the players who have been playing regularly of late was desirable, leading up to a big tournament. After the three ODIs against the Aussies, India play two warm-up games before the World Cup proper kicks off.
“We got through a fair amount of cricket in the Asia Cup, and sometimes it’s necessary to give players a mental break,” chairman of selectors Ajit Agarkar said. “It gives us the chance to look at some of the other guys. We have selected a strong squad, and have ensured that everyone has played enough cricket going into the World Cup.”
Perfect fit for conditions
As far as Ashwin is considered, his possible inclusion in the squad can work in India’s favour, given some of the venues the hosts will play at during the World Cup. India open their campaign against Australia at Ashwin’s home ground in Chennai, while surfaces in Lucknow (where they face England) , Kolkata (where they play South Africa) and Delhi are considered spin-friendly, a description that applies to most major grounds in the country. In such a case, the experience, guile and nous of Ashwin is likely to be more useful than Axar, who hasn’t hit his straps with the ball in white-ball cricket in recent times. And Ashwin can also be relied on to get some runs down the order, even if he can’t be described as a proper all-rounder in ODIs.
India’s decimation of Sri Lanka on Sunday – bundling them out for 50 and cantering to victory in 37 balls with all 10 wickets in hand – has raised expectations ahead of the World Cup, but Rohit stressed on the need to stay level-headed and avoid injuries.
“We can’t play the same XI all the time. As we seem around, there have been a lot of injuries to many teams. There will be a lot of travel during the World Cup. It’s important to have a strong bench, with players having game time behind them who are ready to play,” he felt.
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“It’s important to stay balanced and neutral, regardless of results. Our recent results have ensured that confidence is high and it’s our job to ensure that there’s a good atmosphere in the team and the players are in a good space. We have had a good performance, but that’s not our main focus right now ahead of another big tournament.”
Squad for the first two ODIs: KL Rahul (captain), Ravindra Jadeja (vice-captain), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Tilak Varma, Ishan Kishan (wicketkeeper), Shardul Thakur, Washington Sundar, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohd. Shami, Mohd. Siraj, Prasidh Krishna.
Squad for third ODI: Rohit Sharma (captain), Hardik Pandya, (vice-captain), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, KL Rahul (wicketkeeper), Ishan Kishan (wicketkeeper), Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Axar Patel (subject to fitness), Washington Sundar, Kuldeep Yadav, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohd. Shami, Mohammed Siraj.