New Delhi: Seasoned off-spinner R Ashwin on Monday made a comeback to the Indian ODI team for the three-match series against Australia and will be competing for a potential World Cup berth with Washington Sundar if Axar Patel doesn't get fit in time for the global event.
Senior players including skipper Rohit Sharma, senior batter Virat Kohli, all-rounder Hardik Pandya and in-form spinner Kuldeep Yadav were rested from the first two games, giving them a chance to get mentally fresh for the mega event.
K L Rahul will lead the side in the first two games against Australia before Rohit returns to lead a full strength squad in the third and final ODI ahead of the World Cup beginning October 5. The squad for the third game is effectively the 15 picked for World Cup and Ashwin and Washington.
Ashwin, who last played an ODI back in January 2022 in South Africa, could be a last minute addition to the World Cup side if Axar doesn't get fit before the September 28 deadline set by the International Cricket Council.
Axar had sustained a quadriceps tear during the recently held Asia Cup in Sri Lanka and missed the final against Sri Lanka on Sunday.
Chief selector Ajit Agarkar said both Ashwin and Washington are in contention for the replacement slot if Axar doesn't recover in time.
"There are couple of guys anyways, him and Washington. Look basically, what is being made known to us about Axar's injury is that he should be okay and call we will make it once we know that but it leaves us with option to check these guys if they need to go that way," Agarkar told the media during a virtual session.
"If the need arises, we will look at that way but I don't think there is any need to speculate right now because we are hoping that Axar is fit," he added.
When the Ajit Agarkar-led selection panel had picked the 15-man squad for the World Cup at home earlier this month, questions over non selection of an off-spinner were raised with some of the opposition side's top order having multiple left-handers.
After the squad announcement on Monday, captain Rohit was asked why Ashwin was not part of the Asia Cup squad if he was in the scheme of things. The India skipper responded by saying that a proven performer like Ashwin can be straightaway drafted into the team if the need arises.
Ashwin, who was sidelined from the India ODI set up following the Champions 2017 Trophy, made a recall to the side in January last year for the ODI series in South Africa. He made his comeback after four and a half years only to be sidelined again. Ashwin's T20 career has also had a similar trajectory with the 37-year-old being left out of the team following the World Cup in Australia last year. Injury-prone Shreyas Iyer, who could only play two games in the Asia Cup due to a back spasm, is also available for all three ODIs.
"He got through his batting programme fine and at the moment, he is fit. We hope that he gets through all these three games," said Agarkar.
The first ODI will be played in Mohali on September 22, second in Indore on September 24 and third in Rajkot on September 27. Following that, India will their two World Cup warm-up games against England and Netherlands on September 30 and October 3 in Guwahati and Trivandrum before playing their tournament opener against Australia in Chennai on October 8.
Squad for the first two ODIs: KL Rahul (captain), Ravindra Jadeja (vice-captain), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Tilak Varma, Ishan Kishan (wicketkeeper), Shardul Thakur, Washington Sundar, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohd. Shami, Mohd. Siraj, Prasidh Krishna.
Squad for third ODI: Rohit Sharma (captain), Hardik Pandya, (vice-captain), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, KL Rahul (wicketkeeper), Ishan Kishan (wicketkeeper), Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Axar Patel (subject to fitness), Washington Sundar, Kuldeep Yadav, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohd. Shami, Mohammed Siraj.