Shubman Gill, Ishan Kishan and Washington Sundar were the first batters to take a hit in the nets as other players of the Indian cricket team continued with their warm-ups on the main ground. In the nets, the three faced a lot of side-arm music, were asked questions by Jasprit Bumrah but the focus well and truly shifted from them the moment R Ashwin walked into the practice area with his batting gear.
The seasoned off-spinner wasted very little time during his hydration break and rushed to the net where Gill was batting. He could have easily bowled in the nearer nets where two left-handers – Kishan and Sundar – were batting next to each other but the 37-year-old was up for the challenge vs an in-form Gill. The first delivery left beautifully from his hand and he would repeat the drill for the next 45 minutes. Gill would be replaced by Kishan, who would later make way for Tilak Varma, but Ashwin remained at it. With the cap and sunglasses on, he tested India’s next-gen of batters with his bag of tricks.
Also Read | ‘Australia Series Not a Trial for R Ashwin, Just an Opportunity For Him in ODI format’: Rahul Dravid
The duel between Ashwin and Kishan was an entertaining one as the left-hander looked in ominous mood and was striking the ball cleanly. While most found middle of his blade, there was a moment where Ashwin got one to turn around his legs and had his hands on the head after the ball failed to clip the leg-stump. For Ashwin, even a net session looks like a battle before the battle.
The intensity, body language and commitment are right up there as he just doesn’t look to keep his bowling muscles engaged and warmed up on the eve of the match. He last played an ODI for India back in 2022 and has played only two games in the last six years but he prepared like there’s no tomorrow. Just like he has been preparing ever since he has been in the “scheme of things” of the Indian team management. From checking-in at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) to playing a 50-over club game in Tamil Nadu before joining the ODI squad for Australia series, Ashwin has been putting in the hard yards with the white ball.
‘It’s a blessing for us’
As far as Indian team management is concerned, they have someone to “rely upon if someone is injured”. Ever since Axar Patel injured himself during the Asia Cup, and was eventually ruled out of the first two ODIs vs Australia, calls for Ashwin’s inclusion in the World Cup squad are getting louder.
Especially after how most opposition teams are packed with left-handed batters. There are not many signs coming from the Indian camp yet as they are looking at this series as a “chance” for Ashwin to play ODIs. Coach Rahul Dravid insists it’s not a “trial or anything” for the off-spinner.
“If we have a player like Ashwin, who we can rely upon if someone is injured, it’s a blessing for us. Our back of the mind we always knew that we have Ashwin, who we can call up anytime. It’s a good chance for him to test himself because he has not played 50-over cricket for a long time. I will not say that for him it is a trial or anything, we know his quality. This is a chance for him to play in this format and we just want to give him an opportunity to play in two or three games,” says Dravid on eve of the match in Mohali.
Also Read | ‘We’ve Picked Our Team for World Cup, Suryakumar Yadav is in it’: Rahul Dravid
The Indian think-tank, however, is banking on Ashwin’s experience for a seamless return to the format where he has hardly featured in the last six years.
Having someone of Ashwin’s experience to comeback is always good for us. Someone like Ashwin provides you that experience. That ability to also contribute with the bat at No 8 and someone we always thought of that in case, there are certain opportunities opened, he is someone who is definitely a part of your plans. And someone of his experience, I know has not played a lot of ODI cricket of late but someone of his experience can do that really well,” explains Dravid.
Dravid backs Surya
World Cup participating teams have a window till September 27 to make changes to their initial squad. When asked if Surya needs to worry about his spot, coach Dravid put his weight behind the right-hander and insisted he would be backed and will get at least two opportunities in the upcoming series vs Australia.
“I don’t think Surya needs to worry about the 27th. That’s not why we picked our team for the World Cup, and Surya is in it and we have made our decision to do that and we completely back it. We back him because he has quality and ability that we have seen.
Yes, we know we have at the moment seen it in T20 cricket but we know the kind of impact a player like him can make. He can change course of a game and we completely back him, we are clear about that and there is total clarity on the fact that we are completely behind him and hopefully he will be able to turn it around. Hopefully, he is someone who will get these three games and at least the first couple certainly to be able to develop and continue his journey as a ODI cricketer. But in terms of selection, we made our decision,” asserts Dravid.
When the coin goes up for the toss and the two teams make their way out to the middle, the focus will again be on how a certain jersey No.99 (read Ashwin) fares in the “chance”, if it comes his way. Even if it isn’t a trial, as asserted by coach Dravid, it’s certain that the crafty off-spinner is going to use his experience to put his best foot forward. The experience which made the management look his way at the 11th hour and the experience which could well make him the wildcard for the upcoming World Cup. At the cost of who? How?
Well, those are questions for the team management.