NEW DELHI: Perhaps, for the first time in his tenure as Team India captain, Rohit Sharma has got all his first-choice players in the team as the selectors on Monday picked KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Jasprit Bumrah and Prasidh Krishna in the 17-member team for the Asia Cup.
Besides these four players who are returning from long injury-layoffs, young left-hander Tilak Varma has also been included in the squad which is seen as the core for the World Cup to be played in October-November. Chief selector Ajit Agarkar made it clear that the World Cup team will be picked from this lot.
However, regardless of having all the resources at its disposal, the team still looks far from being settled, the first rider being Rahul being picked without being fully fit.
It’s obvious that the selectors are not sure about the extent of KL Rahul’s new niggle, which is why the team is carrying a back-up player to the competition. Irrespective of merit, the selection of any player should be based on some standard ground rules. Being fully fit, especially when returning from a serious injury, should be one of them. Sadly and worryingly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. And that doesn’t speak highly either of the selectors or the team think tank.
“It is not the original injury (hamstring injury). There is a niggle. That is why Sanju (Samson) is travelling (to Sri Lanka). We are expecting Rahul to be fit if not at the start of the Asia cup then may be by the second or the third game. Shreyas is fully fit,” Agarkar said in his first media briefing while refusing to divulge what the niggle is. “The BCCI will update you on that,” was all Agarkar said. Samson has been picked as standby with Ishan Kishan being the other designated wicketkeeper after Rahul.
The apprehension around the returning players was obvious in Rohit’s response: “I will only be happy if on match day the team sheet says all are fit and available. Injuries are not just happening in India but around the world. When you have injuries you can’t really do too much and hope other guys can fit in the role,” Rohit said.
The team under Rohit and head coach Rahul Dravid has been under strict workload management and rotation policy. Yet, Bumrah breaking down a series before the T20 World cup last year upon returning from an injury can’t be forgotten. The team seeks consistency in selection with just nine ODIs before the World Cup but it has to be careful about pushing the players. “I am no expert on workload management. We have a team which looks after this. We have the physios to see how much to push a player to play a certain tournament and beyond. Going by that, we will have to rest players,” Rohit said.
The perpetual uncertainty around the middle-order persists. With the selectors yet to find a designated No. 4, Rohit tried to allay the concerns pointing at the need to be flexible. Varma’s inclusion was largely based on the need for a left-hander in the middle-order. Ishan Kishan, who has had more impact as an ODI opener, is also seen as a middle-order option besides being the backup opener to Rohit and Shubman Gill. Axar Patel’s evolution as a batter also gives something to the think-tank to bank on.
“Ajit is new to the picture and he didn’t know what was happening before that. I have tried to keep him updated as much as possible. One thing I need in this team is everyone ready to bat anywhere. It is critical for Team India not just in this format but any format. Cricket is moving in a different direction. No one should say I am good at this or that position,” a curt Rohit said. “It hasn’t happened overnight. The players have been prepared for that role. This is international sport we are talking about. This is not club cricket,” he added.
The selectors went with just one wrist spinner in Kuldeep Yadav as Yuzvendra Chahal missed out. No other spinner was selected besides Axar and Ravindra Jadeja. The idea is to add depth to the batting which has been an area of concern in white-ball cricket. This is the reason why Shardul Thakur has also found a place.
The preparation in the run-up to the World Cup has been far from ideal. In the next nine ODIs, Team India will have to test the fitness of players, try out combinations and also preserve the core for the World Cup which is just 45 days away!