Despite persisting concerns over his spot in the World Cup squad, team India head coach Rahul Dravid has backed Suryakumar Yadav while confirming his place in the playing XI for the first ODI against Australia in Mohali on Friday.
Having made his ODI debut in mid-2021, Suryakumar has scored only 537 runs in 25 innings, averaging 24.40 with just two fifties. While he has established himself as India’s leading T20 batter, Suryakumar has failed to deliver the same impetus in the middle-order in the 50-over format. In his solitary outing in the Asia Cup, Suryakumar could not arrest an Indian collapse against Bangladesh and fell attempting an expansive stroke on 26.
However, through the weight of his T20I performances, Suryakumar has earned the faith of the management to succeed with a longer rope.
“He does not need to worry about the 27th (deadline for the final World Cup squad). Surya is in the World Cup team. We completely back him,” Dravid said while addressing the media on Thursday.
“We back him because he has a certain quality and an ability that we have seen in T20Is. We know about the impact he can make at No. 6. He can change the course of the game. There has been total clarity that we are behind him. Hopefully, he can turn it around in these three games. The first couple certainly,” Dravid added.
Suryakumar is unlikely to find a spot in the middle-order when regulars Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya return for the third ODI in Rajkot. It has also been a case of not having room for a specialist batter in the lower-order, with India desperate to field all-round options.
Dying art of part-timers
Dravid said the dwindling skill of batters who could double up as part-time bowlers has been primarily due to rule changes on field restrictions.
“It could be because of the rule change. Suddenly, you have gone from four fielders inside the ring to five fielders. That has drastically changed the ability of part-time bowlers to be able to bowl through the middle phase. A lot of these guys started when there used to be only four fielders in the ring. In that kind of situation, you could use a lot of part-time bowlers. Not only us, a lot of teams did that,” Dravid remarked.
“If you would have noticed, the number of part-time bowlers has gone down in other teams as well. It’s not only in the Indian team. Partly, it’s because of two new balls. It’s becoming more and more difficult for part-time bowlers,” Dravid said.
Not a trial for Ashwin
The former India captain also backed veteran off-spinner R. Ashwin to relish his opportunities during a surprise ODI return after 20 months.
“Having someone of Ashwin’s experience to come back is always good for us. Ashwin also provides you with the ability to contribute with the bat at No. 8. He is someone that we always thought of in case there were certain injuries. I know he hasn’t played a lot of one-day cricket over the last bit, but someone of his experience can probably deal with that well,” Dravid said.
Ashwin has only featured in two ODIs - both against South Africa in January 2022 - over the last six years. He ended up with just a solitary wicket on that tour before falling out of favour again. The head coach, however, did not see the call-up as a rehearsal ahead of the World Cup.
“I won’t say that it’s a trial for him or anything like that. We know his quality. But it’s an opportunity for him to play games in the format. We just want to give him that opportunity to play two or three games, if required, before the World Cup,” Dravid concluded.
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