Ravichandran Ashwin's World Cup hopes received a big boost after he was picked in the Indian squad for the upcoming three-match ODI series against Australia.
Following their Asia Cup triumph on Sunday, India rested regular captain Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya, Virat Kohli and Kuldeep Yadav for the first two games, with K L Rahul named as the captain.
Ravindra Jadeja was named as the vice-captain for the first two games, while Shreyas Iyer has also been ruled fit for the series. India have a strong pace attack for the Australia series comprising Asia Cup final hero Mohammed Siraj, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Shardul Thakur and Prasidh Krishna.
"Rohit and Virat have been around forever. Hardik - we want to manage the workload. Kuldeep’s an amazing player. At some stage, more than physical, guys needs a mental break. From the third game, everyone’s available to play. It also gives opportunity to the guys sitting on the bench. Also Asia Cup gave them a lot of game time," said chief selector Ajit Agarkar after the selection committee meeting on Monday.
In a surprise move, Ruturaj Gaikwad, who is part of the upcoming Asian Games team which is clashing with the start of the World Cup, was picked for the first two ODIs of the Australia series -- India's final assignment ahead of the World Cup starting next month.
Ashwin faces a direct fight with fellow off-spinner Washington Sundar as both vie to replace the injured Axar Patel in the first two games and keep their slim hopes alive for the World Cup. Axar has sustained a quadriceps tear during the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka and will miss the first two ODIs but is expected to play in the third match.
Ashwin, 37, last played an ODI, against South Africa in January 2022. He fell out of favour after the 2015 World Cup, and has played just 17 games since that in which he has taken 18 wickets at an economy rate of 5.45.
Captain Rohit reasoned that Ashwin was picked for the series despite not playing too many games recently.
"With guys like Ashwin, game-time and time on the ground is not so much of a concern which is why we thought if he is an option for us, we need to get him in. With the kind of experience he has, for guys like him, it's all in the head more than the body. I thought getting him in could give is a chance to understand where he is at, how his body is and stuff like that," said the India captain.
"It's not like he has not been playing cricket for the last year or so. Yes, he hasn't played in this format, but he played Test cricket recently in the West Indies. The games against Australia will give us a chance to look at where he's at," he added.
Suryakumar Yadav's inclusion was a big surprise. Despite his poor run with the bat in ODIs, the Mumbai right-hander was retained along with the young Tilak Varma, while Sanju Samson was left out.
T20 sensation Suryakumar has struggled to make a mark in 50-overs cricket, averaging less than 25 in 27 matches played so far. This year, he has played 11 ODIs in which he has managed just 153 runs, while Samson with a career average of 55 in ODIs for a tally of 390 runs in 13 matches, got only two games in 2023 and was left out despite hitting a fifty in his last game -- a crucial knock 51 from 41 balls in a must-win match against the West Indies in August.
The squad for the third and final ODI against Australia on September 27 sees quite a few changes with Rohit back as captain, while Hardik, Kohli and Kuldeep also come back. The two off-spinners Ashwin and Sundar have been quite as back-ups incase Axar Patel doesn't recover in time for the match.
The final World Cup squad cut-off date for teams is September 28, with any replacements after this date requiring the ICC's approval.
India geared up for the ODI World Cup on the right note, winning the Asia Cup title with a crushing win over Sri Lanka on Sunday, September 17.
India’s Squad for first two ODIs vs Australia: K L Rahul (captain, w/k), Ravindra Jadeja (vice-captain), Shubman Gill, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ishan Kishan (w/k), Shreyas Iyer, Tilak Varma, Suryakumar Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami, Prasidh Krishna, Ravichandran Ashwin, Washington Sundar.
India's squad for 3rd ODI vs Australia: Rohit Sharma (captain), Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer, K L Rahul (w/k), Ishan Kishan (w/k), Suryakumar Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami, Hardik Pandya, Virat Kohli, Kuldeep Yadav, Axar Patel (subject to fitness), Ravichandran Ashwin, Washington Sundar.
India vs Australia Schedule:
1st ODI: September 22, Mohali
2nd ODI: September 24, Indore
3rd ODI: September 27, Rajkot