India have brought back Ravichandran Ashwin to the T20I fold to be a game-changer in the World Cup. This has been a paradigm shift in thought process for a side that has kept right-arm off-spin at arm’s length in white-ball cricket since the 2017 Champions Trophy. But as Virat Kohli said at the ICC’s pre-T20 World Cup media event on Saturday, limited-overs cricket is constantly evolving and Ashwin has been bowling with courage.
“One thing that Ashwin has really improved on is bowling with a lot of courage in white-ball cricket. We saw in the IPL in the last couple of years, he has bowled those difficult overs, he bowled against top players, power-hitters, and not being shy to put the ball in the right areas. Spinners mostly get intimidated against power-hitters, but Ashwin believed in his skill-sets,” said the India captain.
Ashwin last played for India in T20Is in July, 2017. The selectors sprang a surprise by recalling the 35-year-old offie for the showpiece event. “We felt that the way he is bowling, his variations and his control over pace is… again, a lot of experience, a guy who has played a lot of international cricket and now he is at his confident best. These guys can go in there and change the game with their spells. Hence, I think Ashwin has been rewarded for reviving his white-ball skills altogether,” Kohli observed.
The Indian team management gradually shifted towards wrist-spin after the 2017 Champions Trophy final, where Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were taken to the cleaners by Pakistan’s Fakhar Zaman. Jadeja came back by dint of his better allround ability, but for more than four years, Ashwin wasn’t in the scheme of India’s white-ball things. Kohli spoke about the shorter formats being constantly evolving.
“Wrist-spinners were in demand mostly through that middle period, but now finger-spinners with accuracy have come back into the game. I think we also have to evolve as a team, with the evolving trends of the game, and Ash and Jadeja are performing beautifully. It augurs well for the team.”
Ashwin didn’t have a very fruitful IPL with Delhi Capitals this term, taking seven wickets from 13 games. To an extent, he wasn’t properly used by the DC team management. Ashwin revels in a lead role and responsibility, which came to the fore while bowling the final over against Kolkata Knight Riders in the Qualifier 2. With two consecutive wickets, he almost pulled off a heist.
At the World Cup, KKR’s Varun Chakravarthy would be his nearest rival as regards to a playing-eleven spot. Varun was one of the showstoppers in the tournament, bagging 18 scalps from 17 games at an economy rate of less than seven runs per over. Varun, however, can be found out in batting and fielding, and the Indian team management has a tricky call to make.
If Ashwin’s inclusion was unexpected, Yuzvendra Chahal’s omission from the World Cup squad was debatable. Chahal had been groomed for four years for the big event, but at the end, Rahul Chahar trumped him. Chahal’s excellent performance in this year’s IPL – 18 wickets in 15 games – threw up questions about his non-inclusion, but the Indian team wanted a leggie to bowl quicker through the air.
“It was a challenging call (to drop Chahal), but we decided to back Rahul Chahar for a reason. He has bowled amazingly well in the last couple of years in the IPL. (He is) a guy who bowls with pace. He did really well in Sri Lanka recently. And against England at home as well, he was someone who bowled those difficult overs,” Kohli said, adding: “We believe that heading into this tournament, the wickets are going to get slower and slower and guys who probably bowl with a lot more pace, as you saw in the latter stages of the tournament (IPL) as well, were the ones to trouble the batsmen the most.”
Kohli is happy with Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s form and fitness and is delighted to have MS Dhoni as the team mentor, relying on his “eye for intricate details and practical advice”.
India’s tournament opener is against Pakistan on October 24, but Kohli is shutting out the hype. “Right now the value of those tickets are ridiculously high. It’s probably the only change that I experience from any other game. But apart from that, I don’t think we make anything extra out of this game. For us, it’s just a game of cricket that has to be played in the right way.”