Ashwin back in T20I setup after four years

Although a regular in the IPL, R. Ashwin hasn't played a T20I for India since July, 2017; with the selection of Axar Patel, Varun Chakravarthy and Rahul Chahar, are India's selectors now looking beyond Kuldeep and Chahal?

R. Ashwin's last T20I for India was in July, 2017, against West Indies. - K. R. DEEPAK (FILE)

India off-spinner R. Ashwin has been picked in the 15-strong India squad selected for the T20 World Cup. It's a surprise selection, considering the fact that Ashwin hasn't played a white-ball match for India since June-July, 2017.

Ashwin is a modern-day giant among Indian spinners in Test matches, having claimed 413 wickets in 79 matches. But his T20I stats aren't ugly, either: he has 52 wickets from 46 matches, at an average of 22.94 and an economy rate of 6.97.

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Moreover, Ashwin has consistently performed well in the IPL. He played a leading role in Delhi Capitals' run to the playoffs in 2019, taking 15 wickets, and followed it up with another fruitful season (13 wickets) as the Capitals made it to the final. His selection, though, marks his long-awaited comeback since having been sidelined by Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, the two spinners preferred to Ashwin in white-ball cricket since 2017.

Kuldeep has suffered a blip in form of late; he hasn't been among the wickets in limited-overs matches and the IPL, and couldn't make a decisive impact when playing for a second-string Indian team in Sri Lanka two months ago. He's played eight white-ball matches in the last 12 months and taken seven wickets at 57, including a best of 2 for 25.

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Chahal, on the other hand, has taken 14 wickets in 11 matches in the last 12 months, with a best of 3 for 25, and a bowling average of 36.92.

But why are Axar Patel, Varun Chakravarthy and Rahul Chahar picked ahead of them?

Axar shone through in Test cricket, during the recent Test series in India involving India and England, taking 29 wickets in three Tests. He was then picked for the first time in a T20I since February, 2018, when he played the first T20I of a five-match series against England.

Varun has just played three T20Is in his career so far, without making much of an impact. His selection seems to be based on his IPL form: he was the top bowler for Kolkata Knight Riders in 2020, taking 17 wickets at 20.94 and an economy rate of 6.84, and in the first leg of the IPL this season, he took seven wickets in seven matches.

Leg-spinner Rahul Chahar has also played just a handful of white-ball matches for India. He took 3 for 15 in a T20I in Sri Lanka recently, but it is likely that his performances for Mumbai Indians in the IPL got him the call-up.

There could also be another dimension to the selection: perhaps more finger spinners have been chosen than wrist spinners for tactical reasons.

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