The BCCI selection committee recently picked the Indian men’s squad for Asia Cup 2023, which will be played in Sri Lanka and Pakistan from August 30 to September 17. The Men in Blue have named a 17-member squad, with Sanju Samson picked as a travelling reserve since KL Rahul has picked up another niggle, having recovered from his thigh injury.
The comeback of Rahul and Shreyas Iyer are big developments in India’s Asia Cup squad. Leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal has been snubbed, putting his participation in yet another ICC event, the 2023 ODI World Cup, at home, in doubt. Suryakumar Yadav retains his place despite poor returns in the format. At the same time, Tilak Varma has been picked in the main squad on the back of his impressive T20I debut, even as Samson remains among the reserves.
Batting strong on paper, but can it deliver?
On paper, Team India’s batting looks rather strong. Led by Rohit Sharma, they have Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Tilak Varma and KL Rahul. Rohit and Gill look set to open the innings. However, the latter’s form has taken a bit of a dip recently, so India would want him to rediscover his rhythm heading into the World Cup. Rohit, too needs to bat with a lot more consistency than he has done since taking over as captain.
Kohli, of course, will be expected to excel in the format that he is most dangerous in. However, there will be concerns over Shreyas and Rahul for sure. Both batters are returning from injury and might need time to settle into the squad. However, India do not have much time on their hands, with a World Cup not too far away. If the duo cannot strike form right away in the Asia Cup, India’s preparations for the mega event will take a hit since they are banking on the likes of Shreyas and Rahul in the middle order.
After the Asia Cup, India only have a three-match ODI series against Australia at home before they head into the World Cup. As such, they would want Shreyas and Rahul to hit their strides straight away. It won’t be easy, but since the selectors and team management have taken a gamble, they need it to work, or they will have to seek last-minute changes, which won’t be ideal. The case is trickier with Rahul, given his niggle. Simply put, he has been picked for the Asia Cup squad even though he is not completely fit because India wants him in the World Cup team.
The case of Suryakumar is an equally curious one. He has oodles of batting talent, which comes to the fore in T20Is, but in ODIs, he has literally been like a sitting duck. And yet, the selectors have picked him for the Asia Cup ahead of Samson, who has done much better in the one-day format. Retaining SKY is a clear indication that he remains in India’s World Cup plans despite his repeated flop show in the format.
As for Varma’s inclusion, it can be seen as a backup in case someone like Rahul or Shreyas cannot make it to the World Cup for fitness reasons. Suryakumar’s inability to deliver in the format is another reason why Varma’s selection is key.
Just one wicket-taking spinner?
The axing of seasoned leg-spinner Chahal from the Asia Cup squad has led to a massive debate among Indian fans and critics. He has been rather unlucky with ICC events. He was dropped in favour of Varun Chakaravarthy for the 2021 T20 World Cup after the latter had one good IPL season. He did not feature in a single match in the 2022 edition since the Men in Blue-backed their finger spinners.
For the Asia Cup, India have gone in without a leg-spinner or an off-spinner. There are banking on the left-arm spin trio of Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel. Among the three, wrist-spinner Kuldeep is a genuine wicket-taking bowler. He has 141 wickets from 84 matches at an average of 26.55. However, both Jadeja and Axar are bowlers who look to stop runs in the middle overs than try to take wickets. Jadeja has 194 wickets in 177 ODIs at an economy rate of 4.91 but at an average of 37.27. Axar has claimed 58 wickets in 52 one-day matches but is yet to claim more than three wickets in an innings.
Rohit explained at the press conference following team selection that India did discuss about leg-spin and off-spin options but added that picking one more spinner would have meant dropping a pacer, which they weren’t keen on doing. Now, batting depth has also been an issue with India in white-ball cricket and even cost them the T20I series in West Indies. However, question marks will remain over the spin-bowling attack if they don’t deliver the goods in the Asia Cup.
Chahal may have been out of rhythm briefly recently, but he is a proven performer in the one-day format. In 72 games, he has 121 scalps at an average of 27.13, much superior to Axar and Jadeja. India’s balancing act with regards to extending their batting depth with remain a debatable top heading towards the World Cup.
There are no surprises in the pace bowling department, with Jasprit Bumrah returning. Prasidh Krishna’s selection is smart as he can generate an awkward pace and bounce. Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj will be expected to come up with match-winning performances as well. Speaking of all-rounders, Hardik Pandya remains the first choice, but Shardul Thakur has done enough to keep himself in contention.
India’s Asia Cup 2023 squad: Rohit Sharma (Captain), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Tilak Varma, KL Rahul, Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandya (VC), Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohd. Shami, Mohd. Siraj, Prasidh Krishna.
Travelling stand-by player: Sanju Samson