World Cup 2023: Ashwin or Shardul - India’s No. 8 question hots up during first practice session in Guwahati
Ravichandran Ashwin and Shardul Thakur were two of the four India players who showed up to the extra session at Amingaon Cricket Ground on Friday. This was not a surprise at all.
Up until last week, fans and experts alike were debating whether Shardul Thakur would be a more valuable No. 8 for India in the next Men's Cricket World Cup or if Axar Patel was a more suitable choice.
Even if the staff has changed, the argument is still heated. But from the standpoint of Indian management, there is just one choice. At India's first formal, if voluntary, net practise for the World Cup, that is how it seemed.
Not surprisingly, given the amount of travel and effort the team has done over the last month and what is ahead for the next two, only four players accompanied the entourage of support personnel for a practise session at the Amingaon Cricket Ground, which is located outside of the city.
The inclusion of Shardul Thakur and Ravichandran Ashwin was not shocking at all. The pair, in preparation for India's warm-up match against England on Saturday, worked hard at both bowling and batting in the intense sun on Friday afternoon.
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Following the warm-up exercises, Shardul went to the middle of the field and bowled for a considerable amount of time to Ishan Kishan and Shubman Gill. After walking to the nets beyond the pavilion, Ashwin batted for more than forty-five minutes.
When batting against spin, Ashwin tried his hand at reverse-sweep as well as sweep shots, which he usually connected with. Following Shardul's break, Ashwin entered the centre field to take on India's throwdown specialist trio for a second period.
For a spell, Ashwin and Shardul batted together. Even after Shardul finished his shift, Ashwin switched hats and bowled for 30 minutes as bowling coach Paras Mhambrey kept a close check on him.
The training session made it abundantly evident that Shardul and Ashwin will continue the Indian team management's search for the ideal balance, no matter the circumstances or the opponent. Probably, one of the two will bat eighth in India's batting order.
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In actuality, the management's decision to include Ashwin in the equation may have been carefully thought out.
It's possible that Axar's injury made Ashwin's inclusion easier to handle. Just following the Asia Cup final, captain Rohit Sharma had declared that he was in regular contact with the seasoned player.
Since the Virat Kohli-Ravi Shastri combination decided to embrace the wrist-spin ideology at the 2017 Champions Trophy, Ashwin may have rarely played any One-Day Internationals. However, his presence can add even more intrigue to selection-related issues.
He was always going to be Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja's backup spin option when it came to Axar. Ashwin, meanwhile, is an off-spinner who can be just as effective as any other in the world. Picking only one player from Kuldeep, Jadeja, and Ashwin will therefore be considerably harder for management to do.
Is Ashwin's experiment a success? Will Shardul remain India's starting No. 8 instead? In a little more than a week, we in Chennai will be aware of it.