Skipper Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Hardik Pandya and Kuldeep Yadav have been rested for the first two ODIs of the three-match series against Australia starting on Friday. Left-arm spinner Axar Patel is also absent from the squad for the first two matches after suffering a left quadriceps strain in the Asia Cup game against Bangladesh. Axar was subsequently ruled out of the Asia Cup final against Sri Lanka on Sunday that India won by 10 wickets. KL Rahul will lead the team in the first two ODIs in Mohali (Friday) and Indore (September 24) before Sharma and the other members of the ODI World Cup squad return for the final ODI in Rajkot on September 27.
With Axar’s availability for the World Cup in doubt, the bilateral series against Australia may play out as an audition between off-spinners R Ashwin and Washington Sundar. Axar is part of the squad for the third ODI against Australia subject to fitness.
“Axar picked up an injury unfortunately. We are hopeful that he will be fit,” chief selector Ajit Agarkar said at a virtual media interaction on Monday. “Washington was already part of the squad for the (Asia Cup) final. Ashwin brings experience. It just gives us options in case there’s a need. Those are the two guys we need to look at if the need arises at some stage. What has been made known to us with Axar’s injury is he should be okay. I don’t think there’s any need to speculate right now.”
In case Axar doesn’t recover and gets replaced by Ashwin in the World Cup squad — the deadline for changes is September 28 — it’s pertinent to note that the latter has played just two ODIs, against South Africa in January 2022, since the 2017 Champions Trophy. While such a situation would clearly not be ideal, Sharma is confident that Ashwin’s experience will make up for a recent lack of game time in 50-over cricket.
“Look, he has played close to 100 Tests and 150 ODIs (94 Tests and 113 ODIs). Yes, it was in the past, but he has been consistently playing Test cricket,” Sharma said. “With guys like Ashwin, game time is not so much of a concern. Which is why we thought that if he is an option for us, we need to get him in. With the kind of experience he has, it’s all in the head for guys like him more than the body and stuff like that. The games against Australia will give us a chance to look at where he’s at and how he’s bowling.”
Shreyas Iyer will also be in focus during the series against Australia. Having returned from a back surgery to play India’s opening two games of the Asia Cup, a back spasm kept the middle-order batter out of the remainder of India’s victorious Asia Cup campaign. The 28-year-old is understood to have been fit for the Asia Cup final on Sunday, but he couldn’t find his way back with Rahul and Ishan Kishan occupying the middle-order spots.
“He got through his programme fine for the final,” said Agarkar. “He is fit at the moment and we are hopeful he gets through all these three games. He has worked incredibly hard over the last many months and fortunately it isn’t a massive injury he picked up. But he did pick up a niggle. He has to get through these games and we hope he will.”
Asked about the decision to rest four players for the first two games, Agarkar said: “Rohit and Virat have been around forever. Hardik is an important player for us, we want to manage him. Kuldeep is in great form. It also gives us a chance to look at some of the other guys. Luckily, we got a fair amount of cricket at the Asia Cup. If not, we might have looked at it some other way. At some stage, more than physical, guys need a mental break, which is not such a bad thing leading up to the tournament.”
Gaikwad will join Asian Games team after second ODI
Ruturaj Gaikwad has been selected for the first two ODIs versus Australia even though he’s the captain of the Asian Games-bound T20 team that will play its first game in Hangzhou on October 3. It is understood that the opener will join the T20 side, currently in a camp at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, after playing the second ODI on September 24.
Squad for first two ODIs
KL Rahul (c & wk), Ravindra Jadeja (Vice-captain), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Tilak Varma, Ishan Kishan (wk), Shardul Thakur, Washington Sundar, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohd. Shami, Mohd. Siraj, Prasidh Krishna
Squad for third ODI
Rohit Sharma (c), Hardik Pandya, (vice-captain), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, KL Rahul (wk), Ishan Kishan (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Axar Patel, Washington Sundar, Kuldeep Yadav, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohd. Shami, Mohd. Siraj
Note: Axar’s inclusion subject to fitness