Like the premiere of an obscure film, highlighted by the ones that are not in attendance rather than the ones who are, the announcement of India’s squad for the Asia Cup might be headlined by those who are rested rather than those who are picked. That isn’t to undermine the importance of the tournament, but simply a corollary of a physically and mentally demanding, two-month tour of England that’s still a Test-and-a-half away from completion.
It does, however, present India with one of four opportunities, leading up to the 2019 World Cup, to zero in on a middle-order batsman who can, ideally, also roll his arm over and delve deeper into a seemingly bottomless pace-bowling pool. With bilateral series against West Indies, Australia and New Zealand also coming up, India can afford to get funky with their selections now, without necessarily jeopardising their chances of winning the Asia Cup, especially considering that the experienced Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni are likely to return refreshed.
India’s captain and all-format match-winner Virat Kohli had said that missing his Surrey county stint due to injury was a blessing in disguise, and his scores on the England tour have certainly corroborated that. While runs have flowed from his bat like a river, his team-mates have been largely parched for them, meaning that he has had to shoulder enormous responsibility. The effects of that, or a grueling schedule – it’s irrelevant which one – had begun to show at Lord’s, where Kohli was briefly hampered by a bad back. While his withdrawal might be commercially problematic for the tournament, there is a strong case for him to take a break, leaving his deputy Rohit to lead the team, as in the Nidhas Trophy, which India won.
Bhuvneshwar to return?
The BCCI had acknowledged the need to manage the workload of their premier fast bowlers after Bhuvneshwar Kumar was ruled out of the Test series in England (the first three Tests at the time).
Jasprit Bumrah also had to deal with some injury worries, missing the limited-overs leg of the tour after hurting his thumb while attempting a return catch. He returned with a match-winning five-for at Trent Bridge, which only reinforced his importance in this team.
After weeks of intense rehabilitation, Bhuvneshwar, too, returned to action with an impressive performance against South Africa A, picking up 3 for 33 in nine overs and showing no discernible discomfort while bowling or fielding.
India could think of roping Bhuvneshwar back in and leaving Bumrah out, as a balancing act.
With Suresh Raina’s umpteenth foray into the ODI side in England reaping frugal returns, a fit-again Kedar Jadhav should walk back into the squad. He was put out of action by a hamstring injury sustained at the start of the IPL, and though it was not until this past week that he recovered enough to play a competitive match, a batting average that touches 40 and an uncanny bowling action will be hard for India to ignore.
Meanwhile, Ambati Rayudu, who came off an IPL high only to suffer the yo-yo low, now looks set to restart his India career. The 32-year-old has officially passed his fitness test and, last Thursday, proved his value with a Man-of-the-Match performance against Australia A. He could be a viable option in the top order should the selectors think of resting KL Rahul.
Pant, or Karthik, or both?
Dinesh Karthik went to England in the form of his life, but like a broken umbrella during torrential rain, it betrayed him when it mattered most. The ODI decider in Headingley, where he chopped on for 21, was followed by four dismal Test innings, two of which ended in ducks. Rishabh Pant replaced him in Nottingham and has shown flashes of brilliance with the bat already – not least through the audacious six to get off the mark – and safe glovework against the Dukes ball. He could well take over as India’s back-up wicketkeeper in ODIs. That doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road for Karthik. With the Asia Cup taking place in conditions where the ball doesn’t seam or swing too much, he could yet add value as a lower-order hitter.
Can Kaul keep his place?
A death-overs specialist for Surisers Hyderabad, Siddarth Kaul wasn’t nearly as penetrative or economical for India in the England ODIs and, given the surge in the country’s fast bowling stocks, he could find it difficult to keep his place. Mohammed Siraj, with 29 wickets in his last four first-class matches and a four-wicket burst against Australia A in one-day cricket, could get a look-in at Kaul’s expense.