ICC World Cup: India cover all the bases, but look thin on spin

No twist in the script as BCCI name 15-member squad with KL Rahul; no room for R Ashwin

Rohit Sharma with the ICC World Cup trophy. (photo: @BCCI/Twitter)
Rohit Sharma with the ICC World Cup trophy. (photo: @BCCI/Twitter)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

‘’No pressure, we just want to go out there and play to the best of our abilities,’’ India captain Rohit Sharma’s words after their announcement of the 15-member World Cup squad on 5 September must have sounded hollow even to his own ears.  

 It’s once again about managing the great expectations as the 50-overs World Cup comes back to India after a gap of 12 years (with the country playing sole hosts for the first time) and the decade long drought of a major ICC title have been agonising for the one billion-plus nation. No wonder that the Indian selectors and team management have put a lot of premium on experience and played it safe - while hoping for the best with KL Rahul’s fitness and shutting the door on the veteran off spinner Ravi Ashwin’s white ball career for good.  

 There was no late twist in the squad which though, in what has become almost a norm, was all over the national media for the last two days. Rohit and Ajit Agarkar, the new chairman of selectors, said in a joint press conference in Sri Lanka that it’s best team under the circumstances – though one has a feeling that the contingent is definitely somewhat short on spin options. 

All the three spinners in the 15 are left-armers, with Ravindra Jadeja being a no-brainer as a senior allrounder in the team and Axar Patel preferred for his so-called batting abilities as a number eight or nine. Kuldeep Yadav, the chinaman bowler who has regained his rhythm for quite some time, is the only one with a X-factor among the trio. It remains to be seen if the selectors have missed a trick by not going for an off spinner. 

Ashwin, who was a part of M.S. Dhoni’s 2011 World Cup winning squad (even though he did not get much of a game time then), was at hand and so was Washington Sundar – and either of them could have been preferred over someone like Shardul Thakur on Indian conditions. Unlike Dhoni’s team where they had at least three to four top order batsmen who could bowl decent spin in Sachin Tendulkar himself, Yuvraj Singh (Player of the Tournament), Virender Sehwag as well as Suresh Raina, none of India’s current top batters chip in with an over or two in recent times -  even in Tests.   

 The spinners, led by Harbhajan Singh, had accounted for 34 of the 69 scalps which India grabbed on their way to the title last time. Admitting that both Ashwin and Sundar were discussed, Agarkar’s explanation was: ‘’As for spinners, there were discussions and both (Jadeja and Patel) offer depth in batting and bowling and they take the ball away. We ideally wanted an off-spinner but this gives balance. We are quite happy with the bowlers we have.’’ 

There are three players in the roster coming out of long lay-offs due to injuries, and the decision to retain KL Rahul as the likely first choice wicketkeeper-batter has been a contentious issue. More so, with the young Ishan Kishan grabbing the opportunity with both hands to score a matured 82 in a high pressure match like Pakistan last Saturday.  

While that particular innings, not of speak of his sequence of fifties in the ODIs against West Indies may have sealed Kishan’s place ahead of Sanju Samson – his place is not quite guaranteed in the playing XI.  

 ‘’We have a pool of 17 players, including Rahul, and we have contingency plans in place. Our focus is on selecting the 15 individuals who can successfully complete the task at hand. KL Rahul has played a couple of games over the last two days and kept wicket for whole 50 overs. He should be ready.’’ 

 The countdown for the Indian fans now begin in right earnest! 

The squad includes Rohit Sharma (captain), Hardik Pandya (vice-captain), Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah, Shubman Gill, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami, Axar Patel and Shardul Thakur.  

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