Virat Kohli and K.L. Rahul returned to the Indian team for the Asia Cup, while a back injury ruled out Jasprit Bumrah from the six-team event in the United Arab Emirates from August 27.
There was suspense over Rahul's inclusion. He missed India’s tour of West Indies and Zimbabwe due to COVID-19, but the Chetan Sharma-led national selection committee named him as the vice-captain.
With the T20 World Cup in Australia just a couple of months away, the selectors chose to exercise caution with Bumrah, who has been suffering from back spasm for some time. He last played an ODI against England on July 14 and was rested for the limited overs series against the West Indies. Along with Bumrah, pacer Harshal Patel, too missed out due to a side strain. Both are currently undergoing rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru.
In Bumrah's absence, Bhuvneshwar Kumar will spearhead the pace department with Arshdeep Singh and Avesh Khan. However, former national selection committee chairman Krishnamachari Srikkanth said on Star Sports’ Follow the Blues show that he would have liked to see Mohammed Shami in the squad. The presence of Hardik Pandya gives India a fourth pace bowling option. Given Pandya’s form, the team management has high expectations from him.
Deepak Chahar, who is recovering from an injury, has been kept as a stand-by along with Shreyas Iyer and Axar Patel.
Despite trying out Iyer for the West Indies series, the selectors decided to go ahead with Deepak Hooda and Suryakumar Yadav in the middle-order. Dinesh Karthik - who has been in red-hot form since the IPL earlier this year - has been picked as a ‘finisher’.
While the top-order looks sorted with captain Rohit, Rahul and Rishabh Pant, the middle-order will gain from the experience of Kohli. Even though the former India captain hasn’t been among runs of late, the team management believes that sufficient rest could help Kohli regain form.
Since last year’s T20 World Cup, Kohli has featured in only four T20Is and missed 19, scoring just 81 runs.
Ravichandran Ashwin will lead the spin department, with Ravi Bishnoi assisting him. With Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja around, the selectors perhaps wanted to give the Jodhpur leggie a chance. In three T20Is against the West Indies, Bishnoi grabbed eight wickets, including a four-wicket haul in the final fixture on Sunday.
India is the defending champion of the Asia Cup. In 2018, when the tournament was played in an ODI format, India won the title under Rohit, defeating Bangladesh in the final. As a prelude to the T20 World Cup, the Asia Cup this year will be a T20 affair, with India beginning its campaign on August 28 against Pakistan.
The six teams are divided into two groups, with India, Pakistan and a qualifying team, in Group A and Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan forming Group B. Each team plays the other once in the group stage, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the Super four round. The top two teams from Super four will qualify for the final on September 11. India is expected to reach the United Arab Emirates by the third week of August.