Asia Cup 2023: Despite having picked an extended 17-man squad, India are facing concerning issues in the lead-up to the continental event. Plenty of questions need to be answered before announcing the World Cup squad, but, it seems, the Asian giants are running out of time.
The much-awaited announcement came on Monday, August 21. In a first, captain Rohit Sharma accompanied newly-appointed selection committee chair Ajit Agarkar for a press conference in New Delhi where India’s 17-man squad for Asia Cup 2023 was announced.
Unlike some of the other powerhouse teams, including Australia and England, India have delayed the announcement of their provisional ODI World Cup squad, giving themselves more time to zero in on the final 15 for the showpiece event, starting October 5. The team management and the selectors, it seems, are desperately hoping that everything will fall into place in the next 2 weeks. Apart from a training camp in Bengaluru, India also play two Asia Cup matches, including the biggie against Pakistan on September 2, before the deadline for the announcement of the provisional ODI World Cup. However, the 17-man squad and the choice of the traveling standby player in Sanju Samson give us an idea of what could be India’s ODI World Cup squad.
“I mean, it’s really a no-brainer. We picked these 18 guys, so it (The World Cup squad) will be in and around those guys. A few important guys are coming back from injury. Hopefully, all goes well with them,” Agarkar said.
There weren’t many surprises in the 17-member squad of the Asia Cup. However, the return of the injured stars and the batting-heavy make-up of the squad does raise some concerns.
THE BIG RETURNS IN ASIA CUP 2023
While the likes of New Zealand and England are shying away from taking risks in terms of rushing their injured players back, India seem to be desperate to have KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer back. Both Rahul and Shreyas underwent surgeries to treat their thigh injury and back injury, respectively. The Lucknow Super Giants captain has not played since IPL 2023 while the Kolkata Knight Riders captain has been out since the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in March.
India are hoping that the two batters, who have proved their mettle in the middle order, find some form in the Asia Cup before they announce their World Cup squad. India have been struggling with their No. 4 and No. 5 spots, so much so that it’s not hard to understand the desperate bid to have Rahul and Iyer back in the mix.
However, Ajit Agarkar revealed that KL Rahul picked up a niggle that is unrelated to his previous injury and that the wicketkeeper-batter is likely to miss the first few games of the Asia Cup, including the marquee clash. In that case, the team management has to show faith in Rahul and pick him in the final 15 for the World Cup without having the opportunity to assess him in match scenarios.
Rahul has been prone to injuries in the recent past and his return from a long layoff last year did not go according to plan as the star batter struggled to get going in the Asia Cup T20 and the T20 World Cup on his return to the team.
Like Ravi Shastri said during his interaction with Star Sports, India seem to be “asking a little too much of the player himself”.
It seemed as if India were preparing Suryakumar Yadav as a backup for Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul in the middle-order role over the last few months. However, the goalposts shifted when the World No. 1 T20I batter was given the finisher’s role in the ODI series against the West Indies.
By his own admission, Suryakumar has not stepped up and delivered in the ODI series despite having gotten consistent opportunities. He has scored 511 runs in 24 ODI innings and his last fifty came 17 innings ago in the 50-over format of the game.
Have India wasted a spot by picking an extra batter, especially considering the return of Iyer and Rahul? Or is it a sign of the team management not showing faith in their star returnees?
“The player that I think is lucky to be in that side is Suryakumar Yadav. I know that he’s a player that we all love to watch, but he is yet to really master the 50-over game. I think he’s played over 20 matches now and at a very modest return,” Tom Moody told the broadcasters after India’s squad selection.
“And to me, there are better options available. I would have much rather seen a younger player like Jaiswal in that side. Or take that position, and play a wrist spinner. You know another wrist spinner.”
ANOTHER WRIST SPINNER?
For the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka and a home World Cup, India seem to be satisfied with just 3 spinners. It was a bit surprising to see India naming only Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel in their extended squad of 17.
It’s evident that the lack of big runs from skipper Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli coiled with the middle-order woes have forced India to pick bowlers who can bat instead of showing faith in specialist bowlers who get the job done.
Rohit Sharma revealed that wrist-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and a couple of off-spinners were considered but India went with Axar Patel, considering his ability to chip in with the bat.
While Axar’s batting numbers in ODIs are far from impressive (18.77 average in 32 innings), India are determined to add batting depth to their side.
Yuzvendra Chahal, unfortunately, misses out despite having done well enough to warrant a look-in.
On the other hand, India also seem to be worried about the possibility of dew in October-November in the country and skipper Rohit Sharma expects pace to play a big role in the home World Cup.
“Dew will play a part but a good bowler is a good bowler, Kuldeep will find a way. We have picked a team on the basis of the best balance we have available,” Agarkar said.
FLEXIBILITY AND NO FLEXIBILITY
Captain Rohit Sharma drove home the need for batters to be flexible in the Asia Cup and the World Cup, highlighting the changing demands of the game. He had fun while explaining his statement when pressed further and even Agarkar had to step in to clarify the skipper’s statement.
“When I said flexibility is important, it’s not like I’m implying sending the opener at No. 7 or opening the batting with Hardik Pandya,” Rohit said.
“Shikhar and Rohit have only opened in the last seven-eight years, Kohli has batted only at three. Youngsters who come in at four-five, it’s important for them to be flexible, batting up and down,” Rohit said.
However, it’s hard to understand why only the youngsters, who are battling for sports in the line-up, are the only ones who need to be flexible.
Are Rohit and Kohli comfortable starting against spin in the middle overs?
What if KL Rahul is not fit and Ishan Kishan needs to be slotted into the XI? Will he be given the opener’s spot where he has had success or will he be asked to be ‘flexible’ and slot in the middle-order?
Where Ishan Kishan bats in the game against Pakistan on September 2 will give us an idea!
CAN BATTERS BOWL?
Rohit Sharma conceded the lack of batters who could roll their arm over in the Indian side while joking that Virat Kohli and himself are preparing to chip in with the ball, if needed. Ajit Agarkar joined in and said the selectors have convinced the two superstars to be ready to roll their arms over.
However, it’s unfortunate that India have not been able to work on creating extra bowling options in the lead-up to the World Cup.
“That was the team of 2011, they had individuals who could bowl, who could bat. In our case, we have to make use of the ones who are currently with us. And the ones who are best, who have been performing we give a chance to them. We cannot overnight create someone who can bowl in the team, it is not like that,” he said.
The problem of India not having batters who can roll their arm over is not a recent concern. Workload issues and injury woes also have affected the prospects of someone like Shreyas Iyer getting enough opportunity to bowl in match situations.
One can only hope that Kohli and Rohit step up and chip in with a couple of overs if the need arises.