Rohit, Ashwin, Shami return for Champions Trophy
Mohammed Shami and Rohit Sharma have made their way to India's Champions Trophy squad after injury-forced breaks from ODI cricket. In the absence of the injured KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan was chosen as Rohit's opening partner, with Ajinkya Rahane expected to fill in in case of loss of form or fitness.
The big debate for the selectors was between a third specialist spinner and an extra batsman, with Shami making it four specialist quicks to go with Hardik Pandya as the seaming allrounder. They eventually went for the extra batsman, which meant left-arm wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav missed out narrowly.
Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin were the two specialist spinners even though Ashwin has not provided his match fitness - he missed the IPL because of a sports hernia and other wear and tear from a long home season. Chairman of selectors MSK Prasad said Ashwin's case was different to some others, who had to prove match fitness after dropping out of the national team with injuries.
"As far as Ashwin is concerned, it was not exactly a serious injury," Prasad said. "In fact, his franchise was magnanimous enough in accepting our request to rest him. Rest is all that was required for Ashwin. In the last international match, he represented India [in the Dharamsala Test]. That shows he was not totally unfit. He was not like the others who underwent surgery and were going through rehabilitation."
Fitness has not been the only concern around Ashwin, though. He conceded 188 runs in 27 overs in the three-ODI series against England, his last limited-overs assignment. In the previous ODI series that he played, in Australia in early 2016, Ashwin was dropped after two matches. Prasad was asked if concerns around Ashwin's form had made them deliberate over the need for an extra spinner.
"It is not that Ashwin is out of form," Prasad said. "It is not because of Ashwin's form that we considered Kuldeep. We considered Kuldeep because of his quality. He narrowly missed out." Prasad said Ashwin had been used sparingly in limited-overs cricket to save him for the Champions Trophy.
With Yuvraj Singh and Kedar Jadhav capable of bowling part-time spin, the selectors were satisfied with just the two spinners. Instead they went for the extra quick to go with Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Shami last played ODI cricket in an attempt to win an ICC Trophy, and now he is back with the same goal ahead of him. The 26-year old was India's best bowler in the 2015 World Cup but since thenm chronic leg injuries have put a halt to his 50-over career. He proved his match fitness through two Vijay Hazare Trophy matches for Bengal and five IPL games for Delhi Daredevils.
"Two years is a long time," Shami said. "After the injury, I have worked on my strength and my fitness. I have lost weight. I hope to continue from where I left off. It is good that I will get seven-eight IPL matches before I make my return to international cricket."
Rohit, too, has proved his match fitness through the IPL, captaining Mumbai Indians in all their matches so far. He had spent five months nursing a thigh injury, which had "scared him" until he had met with doctors and received clarification.
MS Dhoni was the only specialist wicketkeeper in the squad, with the selectors resisting the temptation of going for the youngster Rishabh Pant, who has followed up a superb first-class season with IPL performances that have demanded the attention of the world. Prasad said he still considered Dhoni the best glovesman in the world, but also asked Pant to not feel disheartened because he was 'one for the future'.
Should there be an injury to Dhoni or anyone else, India have named five players as standby, which includes two wicketkeepers, Pant and Dinesh Karthik. Like Pant, Kuldeep made it to the list of standby players as another one 'for the future'. Fast bowler Shardul Thakur, and Suresh Raina were the others asked to report to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore. The BCCI will proceed with their visa applications to the UK in case quick replacements are needed later.
India begin their tournament against Pakistan on June 4 at Edgbaston, then play Sri Lanka on June 8 and South Africa on June 11.