Kohli rested, Rohit to lead India in Asia Cup

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Sports desk: Rohit Sharma will lead the Indian team during the Asia Cup 2018 with regular skipper Virat Kohli being rested from the 16-member squad for the upcoming tournament. Manish Pandey, Ambati Rayudu and Kedar Jadhav have been recalled to the squad while Suresh Raina, Umesh Yadav and Siddarth Kaul, who all featured in the ODI squad on England tour, are among the ones to miss out.

“He has been playing for quite sometime and looking at the workload we have given him [Kohli] the rest,” said MSK Prasad, chairman of the senior selection panel. “I would like to say that I was there for the third Test match and we sat for a discussion about the workload management. We need to preserve our precious players who play all three formats and looking at that workload issue we decided to rest him for the Asia Cup.”

Pandey, who was excluded from the squad for the ODI series against England, forced his way back into the team after a strong showing in List A cricket. He was the highest run-scorer in the recent quadrangular series which featured ‘A’ teams from South Africa and Australia along with India A and India B. He led from the front in India B’s victorious campaign, scoring 306 runs in four games with one hundred and two fifties, and remained unbeaten throughout.

Rayudu, who had been withdrawn from the squad for the ODI series against England due to a failed yo-yo test, recently featured in the quadrangular series along with Jadhav, who returned to active cricket after a lengthy lay-off owing to a hamstring injury he suffered during the first match of IPL 2018. While Rayudu managed a couple of half-centuries and a knock of 48 in four games to finish as the third highest run-getter, Jadhav could only manage 30 runs in three innings.

The return of Pandey, Rayudu and Jadhav signals another round of musical chairs when it comes to middle-order positions, especially the No. 4 slot. When asked if these inclusions puts Raina out of contention, Prasad said: “We have quite a few games coming up [to audition] for that slot, you know. That’s definitely one of the slots that we’re looking at. We’ve been trying different options and in those options we have given opportunity to Manish and Rayudu this time.”

The squad announced on Saturday (September 1) includes Khaleel Ahmed who has earned his maiden India call-up. A 20-year-old left-arm pacer from Rajasthan, Khaleel was part of the Sunrisers Hyderabad team during the 2018 edition of the IPL but got to play only one game in which he went wicketless while conceding 38 runs off three overs. The left-armer, however, has come up with good performances in recent months, picking up seven wickets for India A in the quadrangular series to finish as the joint third highest wicket-taker. He also did well in the ‘A’ team tri-series in England, picking up six wickets in three games including a three-wicket haul in the final against England Lions.

“We are closing in on those core group of players around whom the places will be revolving around here on till the World Cup. We have already closed down on that. Two-three slots we are yet to finalise. So for those slots, we will be looking at these 24 matches (coming up before the World Cup). Among that a seamer’s slot is available and we are looking at a left-handed option in Khaleel,” said Prasad.

Meanwhile, the wait continues for Mayank Agarwal despite his rich vein of form. Agarwal was the second highest run-getter in the quadrangular series, finishing with 236 runs in four games at an average of 59, with one hundred and a fifty. He was India A’s highest run-getter, and the second highest overall, in the tri-series in England, scoring 287 runs in four games at an average of 71.75, including two hundreds. The 27-year-old opening batsman from Karnataka had also scored 220 against South Africa A in the four-day match at the Chinnaswamy stadium.

Prasad noted that Mayank “is just a step away” from earning his maiden India call-up. “Mayank has been fantastic and has been performing consistently in the last 10-12 months time. He is just a step way and I’m sure in due course I’m sure he will get his recognition. He did well in all three formats in whatever opportunites he got in domestic cricket and for India A. We will definitely look at him when we rest some of those senior cricketers,” Prasad said.

In the bowling department, Jasprit Bumrah returns to the ODI set-up after missing the 50-over games against England due to a thumb injury he sustained during the first T20I against Ireland. The pacer was forced to miss second T20I against Ireland and the subsequent limited-overs series against England before he returned to the Indian team for the third Test. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who has been recovering from a back injury, also features in the squad, having recently played in the 50-over game against South Africa A in which he picked up three wickets.

India’s Asia Cup campaign kicks off on September 18 with a game against the team that wins the Qualifiers. They play their second game the very next day against arch-rivals Pakistan and should they finish among the top two sides from their group, they will make it to the Super four stage with starts from September 21 while the final will be held on September 28.

India squad: Rohit Sharma (c), Shikhar Dhawan (vc), KL Rahul, Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (wk), Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur, Khaleel Ahmed.

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