CHENNAI: Ravichandran Ashwin's recall to the T20I squad after a gap of four years and MS Dhoni's return to the dressing room as mentor headlined India's World Cup squad announcement on Wednesday. Keeping the slow and low conditions that will be on offer in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the tournament will be held between October 17-November 14, five spinners have been picked with Yuzvendra Chahal's exclusion the surprise element.
The 15-member squad, which will be led by Virat Kohli, comprises of four batsmen, two wicketkeepers, three pacers and as many all-rounders. Among those who were expected to make the 15, but ended up as reserves are Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar and Shreyas Iyer. They were part of the set-up in the recent months.
Although in Rahul Chahar, Axar Patel and Mohammed Shami, there were surprise picks, none is bigger than Ashwin. The off-spinner last played a T20I in 2017 in the West Indies before India started preferring wrist-spinners in white-ball cricket. However, with Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav struggling off late and not being handy with the bat, the team has been looking at Ravindra Jadeja and Washington Sundar as alternatives. And with the latter yet to recover from injury, India have opted to include Ashwin, who will be an asset in the conditions. Varun Chakravarthy also finds a place in the squad thanks to the mystery factor he brings.
With the team management also looking for a spinner who could operate in the powerplay overs so that Jasprit Bumrah can be used for the second-half of the innings, Ashwin fits the bill and the demands. “Ashwin is an asset. He performed well in the IPL and we needed a player of his experience,” said chief national selector Chetan Sharma, while naming the squad in the presence of BCCI secretary Jay Shah. “We need an off-spinner with Washington (Sundar) injured. Ashwin is the only off-spinner in the squad. Varun is a mystery spinner who is a surprise package for the world,” he added.
Sharma revealed that the selectors preferred Chahar over Chahal because the former's ability to bowl quick would be needed in the UAE conditions. Interestingly, in the 2020 IPL edition held in the UAE, Chahal's 21 wickets were the best among spinners. Chahar picked up 14 wickets.
With spinners dominating the squad, and Hardik Pandya cleared to bowl, India have chosen only three pacers out of which two — Burmah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar — are certain to start the XI. Mohammed Shami, who will be the third pacer, has been picked over Deepak and Thakur, two seamers who can be handy with the bat in a team desperately searching for depth in the batting order.
That seems to have been compromised in favour of having more bowling options in the XI. The batting unit picked themselves with Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul being the openers followed by Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav and Rishabh Pant. Instead of wasting a spot for another opener and a middle-order batsman, the selectors have gone with Ishan Kishan, who will the extra-batsman in the squad. He can fit anywhere in the top-order. This meant there was no place for Shreyas and Shikhar Dhawan, who were part of the India's plans right through the past 12 months and more.
With regards to Dhoni returning as mentor, Shah revealed that he met with the former India captain in Dubai, where he is training with the Chennai Super Kings for the IPL, and he agreed to be part of the team only for the T20 World Cup. “I discussed with my colleagues and all are on same page. I spoke to captain and vice captain (Rohit Sharma) and head coach too,” said Shah about the decision to bring Dhoni.