Former chief national selector MSK Prasad has opined that India have one extra spinner in their squad for the forthcoming T20 World Cup. He added that an additional batsman or pacer would have added more balance.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on September 8 announced an 18-member squad, including three standby players, for the showpiece event scheduled to be played in the UAE and Oman from October 17. There were quite a few headline-makers in the inclusions of some well-deserved newcomers, the return of veteran off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, and the appointment of MS Dhoni as mentor.
While acknowledging that India have all bases covered, MSK Prasad stated that one of the spinners could have made way for an extra batsman or a seam-bowling all-rounder in Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar, both of whom will be traveling as reserves.
“I doubt whether India actually require five spinners. Maybe a Deepak Chahar or a Shardul Thakur would have been more handy. My only worry is, what if one of the seamers get injured. It’s easy to sit out and talk but they all thought since we are playing in the UAE, it’s more spin-friendly than seam. So they have gone with that frame of mind. That’s the reason they have preferred only three seamers and Hardik Pandya.
“Maybe they have considered Axar Patel more of an all-rounder, but in order to strengthen your batting, maybe Krunal Pandya also could have been more useful down the order as a batsman who can bowl. But Krunal Pandya is one guy who narrowly missed out,” MSK Prasad said in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda.
The Chetan Sharma-led senior selection committee picked just three frontline seamers in Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and six specialist batsmen. This means that while the top five in India's line-up are set, Ishan Kishan remains the only batter who can be summoned to address any discrepancy.
Among the standby options, Shreyas Iyer is the lone batsman. Once touted as a certainty in the white-ball formats, the 26-year-old was dealt a major setback after dislocating his shoulder during the ODI series against England in March. MSK Prasad didn’t rule him out from being drafted into India's main squad.
“Shreyas Iyer, had he been fit and fine, he would have definitely been picked. Even before Suryakumar Yadav established his place, Shreyas Iyer was almost like a certainty at that point of time and he did well also. So little unfortunate that injury happened at the wrong time and he didn’t recover at the right time. You never know, because IPL is on and he still might find a place if somebody gets injured,” he sounded hopeful.
India squad: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma (vc), KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ishan Kishan (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Rahul Chahar, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Varun Chakravarthy, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami
Standby players: Shreyas Iyer, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar
“It is a little unfortunate that India’s highest T20I wicket-taker is not there” – MSK Prasad
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The selections in India’s spin department raised the most eyebrows. On one hand, Ravichandran Ashwin made a return to India's T20I squad for the first time since 2017. On the other side, Yuzvendra Chahal, India’s highest wicket-taker in the shortest format, was left out for Varun Chakravarthy and Rahul Chahar, who have played 3 and 5 matches for India respectively.
While Ashwin’s selection comes on the back of economical performances in the IPL and impressive outings with the bat in Test cricket, part of it is also to deputize for the injured Washington Sundar. MSK Prasad also admitted the same while adding that getting gametime in the second phase of IPL 2021 will hold the 34-year-old in good stead.
“Washington Sundar has been groomed for T20 cricket to begin with. But subsequently he has progressed whenever Ashwin was not there, he stepped into even Test cricket. But now that you need a replacement for somebody like Washington Sundar, they have gone with Ashwin’s current performance and also experience.
“And more importantly, you are playing in UAE, and I think it’s the right inclusion. And more importantly, he is one of the highest wicket-takers in the IPL. In the recent IPLs he has done very well and he is going to play a few more IPL games before getting into the World Cup. So all these things will come handy when playing in the World Cup,” the former India wicketkeeper elaborated.
Ashwin picked up 13 wickets at an impressive economy rate of 7.66 in 15 matches in IPL 2020 - a campaign which saw his side Delhi Capitals (DC) progress to the final for the first time. In the home Test series against England in February-March this year, the Tamil Nadu lad scored 189 runs – including a sublime 106 off 148 on a rank turner at Chepauk – in addition to his haul of 32 wickets at a remarkable average of 14.72.
Yuzvendra Chahal’s exclusion, though, has baffled many, especially when two rookies have been preferred over him. But MSK Prasad justified that while Chahar has had immense contributions in Mumbai Indians’ (MI) back-to-back title-winning seasons, Varun Chakravarthy brings an “X-factor” to T20 cricket.
“It is a little unfortunate that India's highest T20I wicket-taker is not there. But the reality is that Rahul Chahar has been doing very well in this particular format, for the Mumbai Indians for the past two years. MI have won back-to-back two IPL championships, and he played a very crucial part in their success. So naturally they have seen the current form, they have seen the confidence. So probably that’s the reason why selectors would have gone with Rahul Chahar rather than Chahal,” he explained.
Chahar is quicker through the air and uses the googly more, as opposed to Chahal. This might have worked in the Rajasthan leggie’s favour as the tracks in the UAE are likely to slow down after playing host to the remaining 31 IPL games.
But will we see Ashwin and Jadeja operate in tandem in coloured clothing, which has been a norm in the major part of the decade gone by?
“India will definitely go with three spinners, two medium pacers and one all-rounder in Hardik Pandya – this will be the combination. Jadeja can play as an all-rounder, Ashwin and another spinner – I think they will definitely play Varun Chakravarthy because he brings an X-factor in this team,” Prasad, who played 6 Tests and 17 ODIs, added.
Taking into account performances in IPL 2020 and the first half of the 2021 edition, there is hardly anything to separate the three leg-break bowlers. Chahar has picked up the most wickets, 26, followed by Chahal (25) and Chakravarthy (24). The KKR spinner enjoys a superior economy rate of 7.41 across the two seasons.
The return of MS Dhoni
Playing one final ICC tournament was always the plan for Mahendra Singh Dhoni. But the raging COVID-19 pandemic postponed last year’s T20 World Cup by a year, thus inducing the maestro’s international retirement.
The BCCI seemed to have Dhoni’s unspoken wish in mind, as the 40-year-old was appointed mentor in what would have been his swansong as a player. MSK Prasad, who led the selection procedure for the 2019 World Cup, lauded the decision, saying MS Dhoni’s experience will be of great help during the marquee event.
“With the kind of experience that MS brings to the table, I think they have done a good job. Because no one else in this world has got more experience in leading in the T20 format than MS. So strategically, I think that’s a very good move by BCCI.
"And whatever little reports I heard, the BCCI has put forward the discussions between the team management, captain and MS. It was a sensitive matter, so they handled it very well and they put up a wonderful thing by including him as mentor,” MSK Prasad, who served as chairman of selectors from September 2016 to March 2020, remarked.
The 46-year-old further stated that all the players have been earmarked for specific roles, the fulfillment of which might see India lift their first ICC trophy since 2013.
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“It’s always ifs and buts, but they were very clear about what they selected and each player is selected for a particular role. If the players execute those roles to perfection, definitely this team has that ability to win that World Cup,” he concluded.
MS Dhoni got his hands on the first-ever T20 World Cup back in 2007. Now, it will only be fitting if he can inspire his protégés to win India's second piece of silverware in the shortest format, in what will also be Virat Kohli's last assignment as India's T20I captain. After all, whatever he touches turns to gold.