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Asia Cup: Will India's Selection Gambles Pay Off?

August 21, 2023 22:12 IST
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IMAGE: K L Rahul has been picked for the Asia Cup despite not fully fit going into the tournament. Photograph: BCCI

The Asia Cup will be a big test of India's preparations for the World Cup, which is just weeks away!

It was no surprise that India's team for the Asia Cup was largely picked keeping the World Cup in mind, which meant gambling with players who are not fully fit for the Asia Cup but are expected to recover in time for the World Cup.

While Shreyas Iyer, who was picked after more than five months because of a back injury, has been ruled fit for the Asia Cup, there are doubts over K L Rahul's fitness. Rahul has been out of action since May because of a thigh injury he sustained in IPL 2023.

The importance of the two players for the World Cup can be gauged from the fact that they got the all-clear after playing a few simulation games at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru.

Pacers Jasprit Bumrah and Prasidh Krishna have also been selected despite not having their fitness tested over the course of a 50 overs match.

It came as a big surprise when Chief Selector Ajit Agarkar seated alongside Captain Rohit Sharma admitted that Rahul was picked for the Asia Cup despite developing a niggle recently.

'Shreyas has been declared completely fit. Rahul, this is not his original injury, but there is a niggle, which is why Sanju (Samson) is travelling,' Agarkar said.

'We will get a report from the physio at some stage, but we all expect him (Rahul) to be fit. If not at the start, by the second or third game, he is on track.'

It is difficult to understand how Rahul has picked up a niggle while working on his rehab under the supervision of an expert medical team at the NCA.

According to one expert, a player could develop a niggle if he is trying to rush his comeback and puts too much load too early on his muscles or it could simply be a case of a muscle pull and is not that serious.

"A niggle is usually because of a slight overload on the body during normal training. This can result in a small muscle pull or slight swelling in the joint and usually heals quickly with some rest. It's not serious and a player can recover within two weeks," says Dr Nikhil Latey, physiotherapist and sport scientist, ProPhysio.

Dr Latey is an expert when it come to sports injuries given his experience of having worked with India's Olympic athletes in the past during the London and Rio Olympic Games

By the looks of it, Rahul -- a key member of the Indian ODI team -- might be half-fit for the Asia Cup but training with the team and possibly playing a couple of matches could help him get back his fitness and form.

It is clear that Rahul's unavailability messes up the balance of the team. Agarkar has stated that only Ishan Kishan is being seen as the back up opener to Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill, so it remains to be seen who replaces Rahul with the gloves for the Pakistan match.

Will India accomodate Kishan in the middle order or will reserve batter Sanju Samson come into the team?

IMAGE: Shreyas Iyer's return to full fitness will be a big relief for Team India. Photograph: BCCI

Samson must consider himself unlucky at not getting the nod ahead of T20 specialists Suryakumar Yadav and Tilak Varma. In his last ODI match, Samson hit a quickfire 51 from 41 balls, but failed in the subsequent T20I series before stormed back to form with a quickfire 40 from 26 balls in the second T20I against Ireland on the eve of the team selection on Sunday, but lost out to Varma and Suryakumar.

Despite having the full backing of the team management, Suryakumar averages a lowly 24 in 26 one-day matches.

Apparently, he is viewed as an important player for the World Cup and could be used in the finisher's role like in T20 cricket but his numbers are not in his favour. He has played five matches at No 6, scoring 108 runs at an average of 21, while at No 5 he is slightly better with 320 runs in 12 matches at an average of 35.

Varma caught everyone's attention with his splendid showing with the bat in the T20I series in the West Indies but fast tracking him into the ODI team on basis of just one T20I series looks like a hasty decision. However, him being a left-hander and his ability to bowl effective off-spin bowling seems to have titled the scales in his favour.

Shardul Thakur's inclusion is also surprising as the fourth all-rounder in the squad after Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel as the pitches in Sri Lanka are traditionally more suited for spinners than seam bowlers.

With the comebacks of Bumrah and Krishna, India face a problem of plenty in the pace department with Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj also in the running and Pandya likely to bowl a few overs, which will make it difficult for Thakur get a look-in.

The onus will be on Pandya to increase his bowling workload significantly in the Asia Cup. He bowled 13.4 overs in the three ODIs in the West Indies, picking up one wicket for 68 runs.

The last time Pandya bowled his quota of 10 overs in a 50-overs match was way back in the 2019 World Cup in July 2019 before undergoing surgery for a back injury.

IMAGE: India will take on Pakistan in their first match of the Asia Cup in Pallekele on September 2. Photograph: BCCI

Interestingly, all three spinners in the squad are left-armers -- Jadeja, Axar and Kuldeep Yadav.

Experienced Yuzvendra Chahal has gone down in the completely pecking order among the spinners for the past year or so and his exclusion was not that surprising as his last ODI appearance came way back in January.

Similarly, Ravichandran Ashwin is not consideration in the 50-overs format, with India happy with their current duo of finger spinners in Axar and Jadeja.

'Kuldeep has had a fantastic run so to fit two wrist spinners might be difficult,' Agarkar reasoned.

With India likely to play Pakistan thrice if both teams make it to the Asia Cup final, it will be a stern and timely examination for the Indians ahead of the World Cup.

There will be a good contest among the players as they jostle for their World Cup places, with two names from this list likely to miss out from the World Cup team.

India's squad for the Asia Cup: Rohit Sharma (Captain), Hardik Pandya (vice-captain), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Tilak Varma, K L Rahul (wicket-keeper), Ishan Kishan (wicket-keeper), Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Prasidh Krishna.

Travelling standby player: Sanju Samson.

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