Thakur's inclusion will add heft to India's pace attack at WC
Venkatesh Iyer, Umran Malik and Avesh Khan added to assist at the nets
India have made a change to their squad for the T20 World Cup, replacing Axar Patel with Shardul Thakur. India’s pace resources in the 15-member squad looked thin with only three specialists in Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
This was compounded by Bhuvneshwar’s lukewarm form and the fact that all-rounder Hardik Pandya did not bowl at all for the Mumbai Indians in the second phase. While pitches in the UAE have been on the slower side, bolstering the pace attack in the squad became imperative, particularly since Hardik’s fitness is still suspect. Thakur, who has also enhanced his credentials as batsman in the last year, became a worthwhile option.
This was hard on Axar, who had 15 wickets in 11 matches (before Wednesday’s qualifier against Kolkata Knight Riders) and was one of big success stories for the Delhi Capitals. His spin partner in the team R Ashwin, in contrast, had five wickets from 12 matches. While this may seem unfair to Axar, the selectors have taken the position that he is unlikely to replace Ravindra Jadeja as both have similar skills.
Ashwin offers more variety in the squad, which now has four spinners: an off-spinner (Ashwin), left-arm spinner (Jadeja), leg-spinner (Rahul Chahar) and ‘mystery’ spinner Varun Chakravarthy. Given the success of slow bowlers approaching the end of the IPL, it may not be far-fetched if three of these four players are in India’s playing XI in the WC.
Will there be more changes implemented by India? The last date for tweaking the squad is October 15, the day of the IPL final, so technically, this is possible. But I reckon the selectors have done their bit after consultations with chief coach Ravi Shastri, captain Virat Kohli and mentor M S Dhoni.
To make large scale changes would disorient the existing players, not give enough time for new ones to settle in, and most importantly, reveal some sort of panic, which is hardly the best way to enter such an important tournament. Also, the selectors would be going back on their own original judgement, which would not show them in good light.
What the selectors have interestingly done, however, is attach some promising youngsters with the Indian squad, in a sort of apprenticeship. These are besides standby players named with the original squad. Except that, after the reshuffle announced on Wednesday, Thakur goes into the main squad, while Axar joins the standbys.
Among the youngsters staying back in the UAE to assist at the nets, etc, is young pace sensation Umran Malik, 21-year-old son of a vegetable vendor in Jammu, who thrice clocked more than 150 kmph, when playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad. Malik only got selected because T Natarajan tested positive for Covid.
When he was included in the playing XI, Malik seized the opportunity with both hands to impress not just his SRH teammates and coaches, but also Virat Kohli who saw great promise in the youngster. Doubtless, the captain’s praise convinced the selectors to keep Malik with the squad for the WC.
Others who have also been asked to stay back are Avesh Khan, highest wicket taker for DC, who’s shown pace, skills, and the capacity for hard work. Avesh was part of the extended group of cricketers when the Indian team was playing England in the Test series, but had to return home early after suffering an injury. His comeback, albeit as a ‘net bowler’ shows he has impressed those who matter.
Venkatesh Iyer of KKR has been the most noteworthy addition from the IPL players. Though also classified as ‘net bowler,’ debutant Iyer impressed one and all with his swashbuckling batting at the top of the order, and the capacity to bowl medium pace, under pressure, in the death overs.
The inclusion of these three youngsters yet again shows how the IPL throws up young talent with the potential to play for India, and keep those in the main squad, on their toes!
Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator
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