Champions Trophy: All eyes on Ashwin, Shami

As the IPL frenzy recedes, Virat Kohli and his men will hope to allay fears of thin form and bootstrap their game in their bid for the Champions Trophy title.

All eyes will be on Ashwin who is returning to the field after a two-month break, having opted out of the IPL to recover from fatigue   -  K. PICHUMANI

Premier off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin will be in focus alongside speedster Mohammed Shami when defending champion India takes on New Zealand tomorrow in its opening warm-up game ahead of the Champions Trophy here.

After a hectic six weeks at the Indian Premier League, the two warm-up games will help the ‘Men In Blue’ get back into the 50-over groove, with emphasis being on team combination going into the tournament-opener against arch rival Pakistan. India last played an ODI against England, back in January this year.

Since the match doesn’t have official status, all 15 members in the squad will get a chance to play. However, all eyes will be on Ashwin who is returning to the field after a two-month break, having opted out of the IPL to recover from fatigue following a gruelling home season.

The warm-up matches will provide Ashwin with much-needed game time as he fights for his place with Ravindra Jadeja, in case the team management decides to go with one specialist spinner in the playing XI.

It will be a good opportunity for the tall off-spinner to test his skills against the likes of Kane Williamson, Martin Guptill, and Tom Latham on a placid Oval track where 300 plus is considered to be a par score. Ashwin has not enjoyed a great time in white ball cricket but the Tamil Nadu off-spinner had recently said that he is ready with a bagful of new tricks for the marquee ICC event. One can expect him to try out new variations in these warm-up games.

Another bowler expected to roll his arm is Shami. He has not played 50-over cricket for India since the World Cup semifinal in Sydney, back in 2015. A fit Shami is an asset to the side, especially with his ability to work up brisk pace, swing the ball both ways and hit the blockhole. With Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah along with Hardik Pandya looking good to make it to the playing XI against Pakistan, Shami would look to make a case for himself.

Among the batsmen, Rohit Sharma will again be batting at the top of the order after not opening the innings for Mumbai Indians during the entire IPL. While it’s a different format, Rohit will certainly need to make some mental adjustments before taking strike under English conditions.

He had played a couple of Vijay Hazare Trophy matches for Mumbai after recuperating from a hamstring surgery but that was more than two and half months back.

Shikhar Dhawan, though, has been lucky to get a look-in after a shoulder surgery sidelined Lokesh Rahul from the tournament. The Delhi southpaw, who was adjudged the ‘Best Batsman’ during the 2013 edition, would like to once again cement his place by displaying his prowess with the bat.

Mitchell McClenaghan, Tim Southee and Trent Boult make up for a very potent seam attack in any condition - something skipper Virat Kohli would be wary of as he tries to arrest an uncharacteristic slump in form.

The middle-order trio of MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Kedar Jadhav will also seek to gain requisite confidence before the game against Pakistan on June 4.

Squads:

India: Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni (wk), Yuvraj Singh, Kedar Jadhav, Ajinkya Rahane, Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Dinesh Karthik, Jasprit Bumrah

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (captain), Tom Latham, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Luke Ronchi (wk), Neil Broom, Jimmy Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme, Corey Anderson, Mitchell Santner, Jeetan Patel, Adam Milne, Mitchell McClenaghan, Tim Southee, Trent Boult.

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