One of the big talking points after India announced their squad for the upcoming ODI World Cup was the absence of an off-spinner, particularly R Ashwin. However, with Axar Patel getting injured, the 37-year-old was included for the ongoing series against Australia and did well to pick four wickets across the first two games.
Kiran More, who was in the Hindustan Times newsroom in Mumbai on Monday as part of the ICC’s World Cup trophy tour, said Ashwin’s experience could be valuable at the marquee event. With Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja in the mix, the former India cricketer and chairman of selectors reckoned an off-spinner will add the variety that’s needed.
“Both Axar and Ashwin are very good but when you look at the batting lineup of other countries, there are so many left-handers,” said More. “So, it’s important to have an off-spinner in the side. I’m not sure how the pitches will play throughout but after the monsoon, I expect the ball to hold a bit. Spinners will play a big role in the first half of the World Cup.”
Skipper Rohit Sharma has stressed on the importance of a long batting lineup, with Shardul Thakur making it to the playing XI consistently. But the fast-bowling all-rounder’s performances have been a bit up and down and the team could be tempted to play another spin-bowling all-rounder instead.
“Ashwin and Axar can bat and give the team some balance as all-rounders,” said More. “Either of them can be included in Shardul’s spot. And to be honest, if you can’t score with seven batters, you can’t win a match. So, if there’s turn on offer, we might have to go with three spinners.”
For Rohit, personally, this World Cup is a significant one as he missed out on being a part of India’s victorious 2011 campaign. Being the skipper now, and with the tournament returning to the country for the first time since then, it’s a big opportunity for the 36-year-old to finally lay his hands on the coveted trophy. India have struggled over the past year with injuries to a number of key players, but their victories in the Asia Cup and Australia series have suggested that things are falling into place at last.
“Rohit is very courageous and knows how to deal with youngsters,” said More. “He allows his players to do what they want and that sense of freedom becomes crucial. He trusts his players completely. For example, backing Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul till the end must’ve been the captain and coach’s call. And they deserve a lot of credit for it because look at how well those two players are performing now. Other captains could have panicked with all the injuries to their players but Rohit didn’t.”
Rahul has indeed been in fine form since his comeback from injury, hitting a century and two fifties in five innings. For More, though, the 31-year-old’s wicketkeeping has been just as impressive.
“I believe Rahul will do a great job for India at the World Cup,” said the former India stumper. “He did very well in the Asia Cup and mind you, he’s made a comeback after a really long injury layoff. He has very good hands and has already taken a couple of fine catches. He’s a big player and it’s a good sign for India that he’s gaining confidence in both departments.”
Another player likely to be critical for India at the World Cup is Hardik Pandya. Appointed as the vice-captain of the team, the 29-year-old has been bowling with good pace in recent times and delivered a classy knock under pressure against Pakistan in the Asia Cup.
“Hardik is going to be the biggest asset for the team,” said More. “These days, you can compare his bowling to the likes of Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. He’s developed a beautiful slower ball and in-swinger. The way he dismissed Babar Azam in the Asia Cup was superb. I think he’s bowling the best lines in Indian cricket at the moment. He gives that proper balance to the side which allows the captain to relax. He gets wickets, is a brilliant fielder, finishes games with the bat, and motivates others in the team. He ticks all the boxes. He has a bit of a swag, but you need characters in the team.”