India wins Asia Cup, but fitness worries remain about Shreyas Iyer and Axar Patel

G. Viswanath

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Shreyas Iyer, Axar Patel | AP

Rohit Sharma flew into the emerald nation on the last day of August and he has returned home with the Asia Cup silverware. Sharma and his team should be proud of the feat because, over the last two years, India had been miserable in two ICC events and the Asia Cup Twenty20 in the UAE and Australia. His team outplayed and outclassed Sri Lanka in the final and stamped its authority like a champion team.

Doubts --- though he was selected in the Asia Cup squad -- persisted about K. L. Rahul joining the team from day one. He was put under the care of the medical team at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru and after being picked for the ICC Cricket World Cup he flew to Colombo after India had finished its business in Pallekele where it batted against Pakistan and beat Nepal.

India did not look cogent enough during its five-day stay in Pallekele near Kandy, but it found its bearings in Colombo. There was a hiccup though when it rested Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Hardik Pandya Kuldeep Yadav and batsman Virat Kohli and lost to Bangladesh in a clash in which the outcome was of irrelevance, in the sense that a defeat would not have prevented its entry into the final.

After the team was announced for the World Cup in Pallekele – by the chairman of the selection committee, Ajit Agarkar --- whispers were heard about the lack of a right-hand finger spinner. Sharma, who fielded questions on the composition of the team and Agarkar, explained that the balance in batting and bowling was important for picking teams for nine league matches.

At the press conference on Sunday (September 17), Sharma went to the extent of saying that he has been talking to players who are not in the World Cup squad and when specifically asked about the choice of off-break bowling allrounder Washington Sundar as a fill in for the injured left arm spinner allrounder Axar Patel, the India captain said: `` (Ravichandran) Ashwin is in the line, I have been talking to him on the phone. The injury happened to Axar at the last minute. Washy was available and he had to come and perform the role for us. He was cricket-fit because of the Asian Games. I have been very clear with players about their roles. Everyone is aware, everyone is in the loop. But I cannot name the players I am talking to.”

First and foremost Sharma, Head Coach Rahul Dravid and the support staff got clarity on the match fitness of Rahul who scored a century, after being told to get ready for the match against Pakistan because of a back spasm relapse to Shreyas Iyer, who had played the Group match against Pakistan.

In the same Super 4 round-robin league, Bumrah also played his first ODI match in many months and bowled an exceptional spell to the Pakistan openers. Bumrah looks more confident than ever, Whether he will be fielded in all three matches in the home series against Australia at Mohali, Indore and Rajkot has to be seen.

The selection committee comprising Agarkar, Salil Ankola, Shiv Sundar Das, S. Sharath and Subroto Banerjee will pick the team for the last three matches before the World Cup in a day or two. This can happen on September 22 after the first match in which Shreyas Iyer could stage a comeback and prove his fitness.

In the event of the back spasm continuing to bother him, Iyer could be replaced by Tilak Varma, who against Bangladesh, was bowled offering no shot to fast bowler Tanzim Hasan.

The selection committee will be guided by the medical team about Iyer’s fitness, but it would be a matter of concern for everybody involved because Iyer’s non-availability will leave a big hole. The captain and coach may turn to Suryakumar Yadav, who may have disappointed the selection committee by manufacturing shots and not sticking to the conventional style of play against Bangladesh. But Yadav is an option because of his experience.

While the picture is clear about Rahul, Bumrah and Iyer, the selection committee may be asked to look for an alternative for the left-hand spinner Axar Patel who has torn his left quadricep which will either require physical therapy or surgery should it be a serious injury. In the event of Axar being ruled out, the selection committee will have to choose between Washington Sundar or Ravichandran Ashwin.

The Asia Cup played over a 50-over format allowed Bumrah and Rahul to come good, but at the end of a successful campaign India and skipper Sharma are still not clear about the availability of Iyer and Patel. There is plenty to ponder for the selection committee, and the team management before the team assembles for the warm-up matches in Guwahati and the World Cup opener against Australia in Chennai on October 8.

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