Senior off-spinner Ashwin Ravichandran returned to India’s white-ball outfit after four years when he was included in the 15-member squad for the T20 World Cup alongside the fast-rising trio of recently-capped Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav and Varun Chakaravarthy.
Also making the squad was Axar Patel, as the selectors decided to pack the squad with spin-bowling utility options instead of extra pacers.
The 34-year-old Ashwin last played white-ball cricket for India in 2017 before being sidelined in favour of wrist spinners. However, he kept at it in the IPL as well for Tamil Nadu in domestic cricket besides largely leading India’s spin attack in Test cricket and that has opened the door for his reentry, with Washington Sundar on injury list.
Kishan (23), Suryakumar (30) and Varun (30) have been rewarded for their consistent performance in the IPL and the trio has also impressed in the few opportunities they got with the Indian team.
The T20 World Cup starts October 17 in the UAE and Oman. The big names to be dropped were opener Shikhar Dhawan and leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal. Rahul Chahar has been preferred over Chahal who was a near certainty in India’s limited-over squads until now. Dhawan has been overlooked with KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Kishan picked as the three openers
Talking about the squad selection, this is what chief selector and former India cricketer Chetan Sharma had to say in an interaction with the media. Excerpts:
On Ashwin’s selection:
“Ravichandran Ashwin is an asset has been playing in the IPL regularly. He has performed well there. The wickets are likely to be low and slow as the IPL’s latter half will be played in the UAE and that will help the spinners. When you go into the World Cup, you need an off-spinner. Spinners will get assistance so having an off-spinner holds the key. Washington Sundar is injured. He has performed well in the IPL so that is why he has found a place for himself in the squad.”
On Chahal being left out in favour of Chahar:
“You want a spinner who can deliver with more speed. Recently we have seen Rahul Chahar bowling with speed. Our view was we need a spinner who can find the grip off the surface at a quicker speed and while we had a lot of discussion on Chahal, we eventually went with Rahul Chahar.”
On Varun Chakravarthy:
“Ashwin is in the squad as the only off-spinner. Varun doesn’t come in that category, he is selected as a surprise package for his mystery spin. The world doesn’t know what Varun Chakravarthy is. If we ourselves cannot understand (how to read him) what will the batsman know? He also has a good economy of 5.”
On squad balance:
“T20 is all about the all-rounders. We have tried and packed the team with all-rounders. We have Jadeja, Hardik and Axar. That was the main point, if the wickets are turning you have Axar and Jadeja, then Hardik is one of the main all-rounders India have.”
On openers in the squad and if Virat Kohli is an option:
“We have selected three openers. KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Ishan Kishan. We back Ishan as an opener and he can do well in the middle-order as well. He can be fitted anywhere. Ishan Kishan is a flexible player, he has already opened for India and done well. He is a good player of spin as well so he can be fitted in the middle-order.
“If the need of the hour is that the management thinks that Virat should open then that is upto them, but for the moment we have three openers - Rohit Sharm, KL Rahul and Ishan Kishan. Virat is an asset to the team. When he plays in the middle-order the team players around him.”
On Dhawan’s exclusion:
“He is a very important player for us. He was the captain in Sri Lanka. What discussion we had on him, I can’t disclose. But he is there in the loop. The need of the hour was that we wanted to look at other players while we give rest to Dhawan.”
On not selecting a left-arm pace option
“The selectors do think about having a variation in the bowling line-up. We also discussed about the wickets (being slow) so the selectors decided to have three main fast bowlers with Hardik Pandya as the fourth (fast) bowler. We definitely had a discussion on T Natarajan, but he hasn’t played cricket for a long time and he is part of the injury list and that is the reason we stuck to the main guys.”
On lack of pacers in the 15-member squad:
“If the wickets are such that you can only play two pacers in the XI, there is no point then to the bench (the extra fast bowlers). Instead, you have utility players who will come in handy at some point in the match and that is why you have spinners and allrounders.”
“If you have seen the recent matches, Hardik Pandya is absolutely fit. He is going to bowl his quota of overs, there’s no problem. We were trying to preserve him, we did not want to have a (bad) situation before the World Cup, but he is 100% fit (to bowl).”
“No 1 is Rishabh Pant and No 2 is Ishan Kishan, are the two keepers. KL Rahul has been chosen as the genuine opener and he will keep wickets only if there is a real need for that”
On standbys and selecting with a lack of match-time:
“IPL is a big tournament where the best players around the world play. So you come to know about the performance of a player. The standbys have been picked keeping in mind that the players can get injured. When it comes to Shreyas Iyer, when a player stays away from the game for a long period, the selectors have their reservations, that is why he has been named in the standby list. Surya is on a purple patch as well. Shreyas will get chances in the IPL, his fitness can be looked at and that is why we have named him in the standby list.”
India’s 15-member 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.
Standby players: Shreyas Iyer, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar.
(With PTI and ESPNCricinfo inputs)
Video available here.