ICC T20 World Cup 2021: Selectors gamble on R Ashwin’s white-ball resurgence in spin-heavy India squad – Firstcricket News, Firstpost

India’s squad for the upcoming ICC T20 World Cup was finally unveiled on Wednesday with the Chetan Sharma-led selection committee picking a side largely along expected lines with an odd surprise or two.

India, who begin their World Cup campaign against arch-rivals and South Asian neighbours Pakistan in Dubai on 24 October, have finally welcomed Ravichandran Ashwin back into the white-ball fold while parting ways with someone like Yuzvendra Chahal, who not too long ago was considered an automatic entry in the limited-overs squads.

Also missing out this time around is Shikhar Dhawan — once the selection committee’s first-choice opener who excelled in numerous ICC events in the past — with the selectors opting for the services of KL Rahul in the top-order.

India haven’t won an ICC trophy since MS Dhoni and Co beat hosts England in the 2013 Champions Trophy final, and while Virat Kohli already is India’s most successful Test captain and often credited for being the key source of inspiration behind the fearsome pace attack that has transformed the side into world-beaters in the current era, he too is without a major championship victory as a skipper since leading the ‘Boys in Blue’ to U-19 triumph in 2008.

Things will be a bit different this time around with the BCCI opting to hire Dhoni’s services in the capacity of a mentor on a one-off basis for the upcoming assignment. Dhoni’s analysis of pitches together with his white-ball strategies that helped him win three ICC events, including the 2007 T20 World Cup, will no doubt come in handy for Kohli and Co and the rest of the team management in the months of October and November.

Let us take a closer look at the squad picked by the BCCI selection committee to analyse just how strong India’s chances of ending their wait for a trophy are:

Top order:

When Kohli had opened alongside Rohit Sharma in the final T20I against England earlier this year, he ended up producing a stand worth 94 runs with both batters scoring fifties in a winning cause.

While the captain had expressed interest in opening alongside Rohit in the T20 World Cup after the game, the selectors perhaps do not share his view and have looked at India’s current Test opening combination of Rohit and KL Rahul as the go-to pair for the upcoming event.

Middle order:

Ishan Kishan, who made the most of the opportunities handed to him against England earlier this year, has been picked not only as a back-up option for the opener’s slot, but someone who can also drop a few places down the order in case one of the middle-order options is injured or out of form.

Ishan Kishan in action against England on his debut. Sportzpics

Suryakumar Yadav cemented his place in the squad on the back on solid performances in IPL 2020, the first half of IPL 2021 as well as India’s recent white-ball assignments against England and Sri Lanka and has become the latest occupant of the contentious No 4 slot in India’s limited-overs sides, which belonged to ex-Delhi Capitals skipper Shreyas Iyer before suffering a shoulder injury in March that has ruled him out of action since.

All-rounders:

While Ravindra Jadeja’s guile with the ball in hand and his ability to check the opposition’s scoring rate in addition to taking wickets will always make him a threat across formats, it is perhaps the resurgence of Ravindra Jadeja the batsman that has helped the left-arm spinner walk into the side as one of India’s lower-middle-order options. Let’s not forget how solid he was with the bat in the first half of IPL 2021 with his 131 lower order runs that came at a strike rate of 161.72, including a 62 not out off 28 balls that was part of a brilliant match-winning all-round display against RCB.

Ravindra Jadeja slammed 62 off 28 and took three wickets as Chennai Super Kings defeated Royal Challengers Bangalore. Image: Sportzpics for IPL

Ravindra Jadeja slammed 62 off 28 and took three wickets as Chennai Super Kings defeated Royal Challengers Bangalore in IPL 2021. Image: Sportzpics for IPL

Let’s not forget Axar Patel, who has been picked as Jadeja’s back-up, is no mug with the bat either (strike rate of 137.64 in IPL 2020) and can bowl both in the middle overs as well as in the death.

Hardik Pandya, though not in the same vein of form as IPL 2020, is expected to share the seam-bowling responsibilities alongside the main pace trio and the selectors are confident in his fitness and expect him to bowl his full quota in the middle overs of the game. Should he regain his touch with the bat, Pandya could be a game-changer for Team India the way he dished out one match-winning contribution after another in IPL played in the UAE last year.

Spinners:

This is the department that has raised many an eyebrow upon the announcement of the World Cup squad. Ashwin returns to the white-ball squad for the first time since being unceremoniously dropped along with Jadeja in favour of the Kul-Cha pair (Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal) in the summer of 2017.

While Ashwin has since been a force for the Indian team in Test cricket, especially in home conditions, the senior off-spinner has been working on a multiple variations including developing a leg-break delivery in order to keep himself in contention for the limited-overs assignments, while also improving his batting skills with the bat over the years.

Ravichandran Ashwin has been impressive for both Punjab Kings and Delhi Capitals in the IPL in recent years. Sportzpics

Ravichandran Ashwin has been impressive for both Punjab Kings and Delhi Capitals in the IPL in recent years. Sportzpics

Let’s not forget the importance of a finger-spinner in a format that has a plethora of left-handed batting stars, which makes the case of a selection of an offie all the more important. With Washington Sundar’s fitness still in question, the selectors turned to his senior teammate who has been a regular for Kings XI Punjab (now Punjab Kings) and Delhi Capitals in recent years.

Additionally, Rahul Chahar has finally been rewarded for a series of consistent performances both in league cricket as well as international assignments, especially in IPL 2021 in which he’s currently the fourth-highest wicket taker (11 wickets; average: 18.36; economy: 7.21). In what would have been the toughest call in the selection of the World Cup squad, chief selector Sharma said Chahar’s extra pace in his delivery is what has helped in his selection over a quality spinner like Chahal, who hadn’t been in the best of form of late but was very much in the radar.

“We have picked Rahul Chahar over Yuzi as we wanted someone who bowls fast and gets pace off the pitch,” former India seamer Sharma said in an interaction with the press after the squad announcement.

Also making his World Cup debut is mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy, who made the batters dance to his tunes in the UAE last year, collecting the only five-wicket haul of the season (5/20 against DC) as he finished with 17 wickets (average: 20.94; economy: 6.84), the highest among Kolkata Knight Riders’ bowlers. Chakravarthy had earlier missed out on his debut in the tour of Australia and in the home series against England, his fitness being the issue on both occasions, before impressing in the LOI tour of Sri Lanka.

Pace:

While Mohammed Shami has been picked as one of the three frontline seamers in the squad and has bowled many a lethal spell for the Punjab Kings in the last two seasons, including a superb display in the double Super Over against Mumbai Indians in Dubai last year, the fact remains India will likely stick to Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar as their two pacers in the XI, the former likely bowling an over each in the powerplay in the middle before shifting his focus to the slog overs while Bhuvneshwar mainly being utilised with the new ball. That Shami has not been a regular in India’s white-ball matches of late too is likely to hinder his selection into the team.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar took 10 wickets across eight matches against England in March. Image: Sportzpics

File image of Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Sportzpics

One man who will certainly feel hard done by is Deepak Chahar. Though included in the reserves, Chahar’s recent performances both for the Chennai Super Kings as well as Team India certainly would’ve made him a first choice. Chahar, after all, has been MS Dhoni’s go-to man with the new ball in the IPL and his match-winning partnership with Bhuvneshwar in the second ODI against Sri Lanka is evidence of his handiness with the bat in the tail. Another tough call for the selectors given their preference for spinners in subcontinent-like conditions in the UAE.

Team India squad: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma (vice-captain), KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ishan Kishan (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Rahul Chahar, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Varun Chakravarthy, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami.

Standbys: Shreyas Iyer, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar.

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