Asia Cup: Offie the missing link as India squad announced
Rahul and Iyer make comeback; Chahal excluded with Kuldeep, Jadeja and Axar being the spin bowling options
CHENNAI: The much-awaited India squad for the Asia Cup was announced on Monday with batters — KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer — making a comeback after undergoing thigh and back surgeries, respectively. The Asia Cup is scheduled to begin on August 30 with Pakistan taking on Nepal in Multan. Rohit and Co will take on arch-rivals and co-hosts Pakistan in their first outing on September 2 in Pallekele, Sri Lanka. The day/night final will be played on September 17 in Colombo.
Former India player Ajit Agarkar, in his first presser as the chief selector, though managed to table a balanced squad with the only missing link being a full-time off-break bowler. India captain Rohit Sharma also spoke on the subject while addressing the media after the announcement of the 17-member squad with wicketkeeper-batter Sanju Samson being the reserve. "We thought about an offspinner as well, (Ravichandran) Ashwin and Washy (Washington Sundar), but right now you see (Yuzvendra) Chahal had to miss out because we could only pick 17 players," was India captain Rohit Sharma's take on the issue during the media interaction.
Former India leg-spinner and selector Narendra Hirwani also feels the squad would have been more balanced had a full-time offie given a place. "The squad is for the Asia Cup where teams like Pakistan and Bangladesh will have a lot of left-hand batters. An offie would have been effective against them but again it all depends on team combinations and strategies," Hirwani told this daily.
For the record, the 17-member Bangladesh squad has six left-hand batters while Pakistan have four lefties at the top. "The off-spinner bowls away from the lefty so it's always tricky for the batters. With the offie bowling to them, there is always a good chance of a nick or an edge being carried to the wicket-keeper or the slip fielders. In Tilak Varma, they have a part-time off-spinner but it's always good to have an expert," added Hirwani.
Varma, the talented left-hand batter from Hyderabad who made his T20I debut earlier this month against West Indies, was used by the skipper Hardik Pandya in the fifth match where he claimed an important wicket of Nicholas Pooran. Hirwani, however, sees him more as a batter who can be the future of India. "It doesn't look like he made his India debut recently. He plays with a lot of maturity. His approach might be bold and aggressive but he plays calculative shots. He is a gifted player, his approach and body language suggest that. It's good that he has been given a chance to showcase his skills ahead of the marquee event (ODI World Cup)."
As far as comebacks are concerned, a lot of players have made it back to the ODI squad after quite some time. Rahul last played in a 50-over match in March this year against Australia while Iyer featured in an ODI back in January 2023 against Sri Lanka. In fact, the former recently picked a niggle which forced the team management to pick Samson as the reserve wicketkeeper.
Apart from the duo, speedsters Jasprit Bumrah, who is captaining the India T20I side in Ireland, and Prasidh Krishna, who is also a part of the team, have been included in the squad. Bumrah last played an ODI back in July 2022 while Prasidh made an appearance for the team in a 50-over match in August last year. Pacer Mohammed Shami is also making a comeback to the ODI team.
In the absence of Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav will be the lone wrist spinner in the team with Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja being the other spin bowling options. Hardik Pandya has been named vice-captain, and he along with Shardul Thakur will be the two pace bowling all-rounders with Prasidh, Bumrah, Shami and Mohammed Siraj being the specialist fast bowlers. Despite his not-so-impressive show in the three-match ODI series against West Indies, Suryakumar Yadav has also made it to the squad.
Rohit Sharma (Captain), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Tilak Varma, KL Rahul, Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandya (VC), Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohd. Shami, Mohd. Siraj, Prasidh Krishna.
Traveling stand-by player: Sanju Samson.
"The only way we could have picked him (Chahal) was if one of the seamers was missing. We can't do that because seamers are going to play a big role in the next two months. Having said that, no doors are closed on anyone. Anyone can come in anytime. If we feel like we need Chahal for the World Cup, we'll see how we can squeeze him in, the same goes for Washy or Ashwin."
Rohit Sharma, captain, on Chahal's exclusion
"Rahul plays in the team as a wicketkeeper-batter. Hopefully, he will be available from the first game itself. It is a small setback for KL but we are hopeful that will be okay. From what we have been told it should not be too bad (in Rahul's case). We still have one month and a half before World Cup, hopefully, they (Iyer and Rahul) will get enough cricket before that."
Ajit Agarkar, chief selector, on Rahul's niggle