The national selectors are facing a tricky choice, as they meet in Mumbai on Saturday to pick the Indian squad for the Asia Cup. The tournament, to be played in the UAE from September 15 to 28, comes on the heels of a gruelling two-month tour of England and precedes India’s home season. The biggest issue that confronts the MSK Prasad-led selection panel, which now has five members following Jatin Paranjape and Gagan Khoda’s return, is about managing the workload of Virat Kohli.
Prior to the tour of England, Kohli had missed his Surrey County stint due to a neck injury. Then, during the Lord’s Test, the India captain suffered a lower-back strain. At the Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka, sandwiched between India’s tour of South Africa and the IPL earlier this year, the selectors decided to send a second-string side to manage the workload of the frontline players. The Asia Cup is a little different, with Pakistan part of the roster.
Also, this is a tournament which the BCCI is hosting overseas “on a cost neutral basis” and the Indian board’s gate earnings would only be the amount upside of $5.5 million; shared in the 75:25 ratio with the Emirates Cricket Board. Kohli is international cricket’s box office and his absence could have negative commercial implications. If the selectors still, in consultation with the India captain, decides in favour of his withdrawal, Rohit Sharma will lead the side.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, however, is likely to return to the fold. The medium pacer had aggravated his lower-back injury during the third ODI at Leeds. It ruled him out of the Test series against England. After a period of rehabilitation, Kumar has now returned to competitive cricket, claiming 3/33 against South Africa A. It needs to be seen if Jasprit Bumrah, who recovered from a fractured thumb to return to the Test team at Nottingham, goes to the Asia Cup or gets a break. He is in imperious form at the moment.
Middle-order is still an unsettled area in the India ODI team. Ambati Rayudu had been brought back to the side for the ODIs in England after his IPL exploits. But he failed the yo-yo test and was replaced by Suresh Raina. The latter once again failed to inspire confidence, while Rayudu is now ‘yo-yo’ fit and fresh from a Man-of-the-Match performance against Australia A last week. Logically, Rayudu should get into the squad.
Manish Pandey, too, is in fine fettle of late, with scores of 95 not out against South Africa A, and 117 not out and 73 not out against Australia A in the Quadrangular Series. However, with less than a year to go for the World Cup, Ajinkya Rahane had been inexplicably dropped for the ODI series in England.
Rahane was the Man-of-the-Series in West Indies last year, where he opened the innings as Rohit’s replacement. He forged a match-winning 189-run partnership with Kohli in Durban earlier this year. In the last Test at Nottingham, he scored 81 in the first innings, adding 159 runs with Kohli in the process. During the South Africa tour, Kohli had spoken about how Rahane getting into the groove could be important for India, with an eye to the World Cup in England. The apparent insecurity, however, has been affecting Rahane’s game across formats. For a class act like him, it’s incredulous that Rahane’s white-ball career is seemingly at the mercy of a selection committee that has played just 31 ODIs and 13 Tests between five of them.
Meanwhile, Kedar Jadhav has recovered from the hamstring injury that he suffered during the IPL. And between Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant it could be a tight contest for the reserve wicketkeeper’s slot.