Selection Committee goes for the jugular; pick K. L. Rahul and Shreyas Iyer for Asia Cup
Mumbai, 21 August, 2023
The selection of the Indian cricket team, for bilateral series and multi-country tournaments, triggers a lot of interest and excitement amongst the legion of followers of the national team. And so the prospect of the announcement of the team for the Asia Cup on Monday set off enormous curiosity among the cricketing fraternity.
Much interest revolved around the selection committee’s readiness to stick their neck out and pick K.L. Rahul, laid off due to a thigh-related injury and, Shreyas Iyer, due to a vulnerable lower back.
The selection committee to which former India all-rounder Ajit Agarkar was appointed as chairman recently, went for the jugular and drafted both into the 17-member squad. One would be compelled to say it was a brave heart call, nay to an extent, a gamble! As expected left-hander Tilak Varma has been included in the squad.
In the early part of this year, the focus was riveted on the four-Test home series against Australia because the ICC World Test Championship final was at stake. India won the series on bone-dry and under-prepared pitches that enabled the slow spinners to play a decisive part in favour of the home team.
But once the WTC final was done and dusted --- India lost --- the national selection committee and the team management were keen and eager to find the preferred personnel for the longer version of white-ball cricket for the Asia Cup and the ICC Cricket World Cup to be held in India from the first week of October.
The selection committee comprising Agarkar, Shiv Sundar Das, Salil Ankola, Subroto Banerjee and S. Sharath the head coach Rahul Dravid and captain Rohit Sharma met in New Delhi; the idea was to get everybody under one roof and brainstorm, but the honourable men would have known what the composition of the team would be like once the practitioners with the new ball Jasprit Bumrah and Prasidh Krishna, recovered from back-related ailments, were declared fit and chosen for the three-match Twenty20 series in Ireland.
To start with the selection committee and the team management would have had the medical reports of Rahul and Iyer and got the nuances explained. Both had gone under the knife; all the more reason to be a bit uncertain about their availability for the two events. It was tricky.
Perhaps the selection committee did not risk picking Iyer and Rahul for the tour of Ireland. Sharma was a crestfallen man after the third Test against Australia in Indore. “It was not a good sight, hope he comes back to play the game,” responded Sharma while fielding a question on Iyer’s back injury.
Clearly, his lower back was damaged in the course of the Test at the Holkar Stadium. The Mumbai and India middle order had been the batsman in form across all formats. Agarkar revealed to the media that Iyer has been cleared, while Rahul picked up another niggle while going through the rehab process at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru and that he may not be match-fit for the games against Pakistan and Nepal at Pallekele near Kandy on September 2 and 4.
Rahul has been included in the squad because his recovery can be managed by the travelling medical team and make sure that he is available for the World Cup that India starts with a match against Australia on October 9 in Chennai.
Rohit Sharma and Dravid have clearly looked at Rahul’s experience (54 ODIs, 1986 runs, 915 as an opener and 742 at No.5, 5 x 100s and 13 x 50s). Moreover, Rahul has been part and parcel of the team in Test match cricket and Twenty20. Rahul played his last ODI match against Australia in Chennai on March 22 this year. Rahul has played 47 Tests and 72 Twenty20 matches.
Iyer on the other hand has played 101 matches across formats, scored 3340 runs, and 1631 in ODIs. Apart from the Asia Cup, India will play nine World Cup league matches and the selectors and team management believe that Iyer could turn out to be the vital cog in the wheel of the national team that would be chasing two titles in the form of the Asia Cup and the World Cup.
With Rahul almost certain to miss the first two games against Pakistan and Nepal in the Asia Cup, the India captain will open with either Shubman Gill or Ishan Kishan. Sharma and Gill have delivered 683 runs at the top of the order in partnership; Gill and Shikhar Dhawan (not in the squad) have put on 762 runs as openers. The chances of Sharma and Kishan look a better option though against Pakistan’s explosive left-arm seamer Shaheen Afridi.
The first Asia Cup match is some 12 days away and the selection committee, Sharma and Dravid will get an opportunity to assess Rahul and Iyer’s fitness during the training camp in Bengaluru and in a practice match or two.
The team management and the selection committee have given priority to packing the team with all-rounders and there are plenty of options in Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, and Shardul Thakur. The seam attack consists of Bumrah, Krishna, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj. The committee has chosen to go with the chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav against the orthodox leg spinner, Yuzvendra Chahal (72 ODIs and 121 wickets).
The squad chosen for the Continental tournament could be the same for the World Cup. In the absence of the injured Rishabh Pant, the selection committee has chosen Sanju Samson as the reserve keeper-batsman.
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. Reserve: Sanju Samson.