Selecting a team after a 5-0 series sweep would generally mean everyone from critics to the public are happy with the same group of players retained. But India had brushed aside the clueless Sri Lankans with a team devoid of two major superstars — Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
The two spin icons had been India’s pillars in the longer format during the home season but a poor Champions Trophy, where their bowling averages soared, had seen them 'rested’ for the Sri Lankan ODIs as the selectors opted to give Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav a go.
MSK Prasad, however, had clarified that the duo were rested as part of a rotation policy in place. But with India winning 5-0 and the triumvirate of spinners putting in decent performances, Ashwin and Jadeja are set to continue their hiatus in the shorter format. The Indian squad for the Australian ODIs (first three matches) was named on Sunday and there was no room for either Ashwin or Jadeja. Fourteen of the 15 players from the Sri Lankan series were retained.
Shardul Thakur, who took just one wicket in two games, was the only player missing out from the squad in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, experienced seamers Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami returned to the fold.
The selection seems pretty much as expected although Jadeja was expected to return in place of Axar. Ashwin, on the other hand, is plying his trade playing county cricket with Worcestershire and was always expected to remain in England to familiarise himself with the pitches.
"The team for the three ODIs against Australia has been selected in line with the rotation policy of the board and accordingly Ashwin and Jadeja have been rested. The team's performance during the Sri Lanka tour was outstanding and players like Axar and Chahal, who performed very well are being given an extended run and this will in turn supplement our approach, to build a strong reserve strength, as we prepare for forthcoming tours," Prasad, the chairman of the selection committee had said.
In spite of the selection being along expected lines, a few factors pop up when the squad is analysed with the bigger picture in mind.
The Rahul-Manish-Jadhav-Rahane jigsaw puzzle
KL Rahul was expected to put an end to India’s No 4 woes. Instead, he turned out to be a sitting duck against the slower bowlers in the middle of the innings. He was dismissed thrice by Akila Dananjaya and looked completely out of sorts in the middle order in Sri Lanka.
Ajinkya Rahane, who was often criticised for his inability to rotate strike in the middle overs, is someone who is in the squad as a backup opener. But Rahul is clearly a misfit at two-down, given his technique is more suited to playing the new ball and Rahane could well be used as a backup middle order batsman instead.
But then, Manish Pandey and Kedar Jadhav are there too and only one of them could ideally slot in, which would mean there is no room for Rahane. However, as the Champions Trophy final revealed, when a bowler like Mohammad Amir gets going, India need a solid batsman, capable of putting his head down and stitching together a solid innings. Rahane is the right man to shoulder that responsibility, especially with World Cup 2019 set to take place in England.
The selectors should have probably chosen between Jadhav and Rahul at this stage with Rahane and Pandey tasked with the backup opening and middle order roles. Home ODIs were also an ideal occasion to give Manish Pandey an extended run to boost his confidence.
The off-time would only have done someone like Rahul a world of good. He needs to buckle down his methods against spin while Jadhav could also boost his batting confidence with some time away from international cricket.
The pace bowling arsenal
India undoubtedly have a pack of fast bowling wolves of which to boast at the moment, but utilising them in the right way is necessary to derive maximum benefits. Thakur attracted lots of attention with his No 10 jersey during the Sri Lankan series, but finds himself sidelined after a couple of drab performances.
That Yadav, Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are India’s first choice seamers is without doubt. But in a home ODI series of little importance, Thakur could have been persisted with to see how he goes against quality opponents. One of Shami or Umesh could have been rested at least for the first leg of the ODIs.
There is still time to induct Thakur after the three ODIs and if that materialises, this decision might not be as bad as it seems.
Younger talents go missing
With the World Cup still two years away, India are bizarrely sticking with a select group of 17 to 18 players. Being a home series, it was an ideal opportunity to blood some younger players like Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer, Krunal Pandya, Basil Thampi, Dhawal Kulkarni or even Washington Sundar.
While this could also happen after India seal the series, the youngsters need to get accustomed to the pressure of playing big teams and this could have been a proper opportunity. But Prasad and his fellow selectors have decided to trust the selected 16 players, which isn't altogether bad but it largely restricts the experience of the available pool of players.