Ahead of India's ODI series opener against Australia at the PCA Stadium, head coach Rahul Dravid believes veteran off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin was always a part of the plans in case of any opportunity opening up in the team in case of an injury.
Ashwin last played an ODI on tour of South Africa in January 2022 and was given a recall to the format on Monday alongside fellow Tamil Nadu state-mate, off-spin all-rounder Washington Sundar.
The series serves as a virtual shoot-out between the duo if a situation to replace Axar Patel, down with a left quadriceps strain that ruled him out of the Asia Cup final, arises close to the Men’s ODI World Cup on home soil.
"Having someone of Ashwin's experience to come back is always good for us. Someone like Ashwin provides you that experience- that ability to be also contribute with the bat at number eight. Also, we always thought of it, in case, there were certain injuries, in case there were certain opportunities opened up, then he was someone who was definitely always part of our plans."
"Someone of his ability and experience, I know hasn't played a lot of one-day cricket over the last bit. But you know someone of his experience can probably deal with that really well. It's a good thing. If you have a player of that quality and can call him on at any stage if anyone else is injured," said Dravid in the pre-match press conference.
Ashwin, a member of India’s victorious 2011 World Cup campaign on home soil, joined the ODI side after playing a VAP League match in Chennai and practising at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru under spin consultant Sairaj Bahutule. Dravid doesn’t see the ODI series as a trial for Ashwin’s selection in the World Cup.
"We had it in our mind that there was a player of Ashwin's quality and we could call him back to the side anytime in case of injuries. It's a good opportunity for him also to test himself because he is returning to the ODI side after a long gap."
"I won't say that it's a trial for him or anything like that, as we know his quality. But it's an opportunity for him to play games in the format. We just want to give him that opportunity to play two-three games, if required, before the World Cup," he added.
Dravid also felt that one shouldn’t be making much noise over the selection of Suryakumar Yadav, whose ODI form has been in complete contrast of his swashbuckling T20I run. In 27 ODIs, Suryakumar has scored 537 runs at an average of 24.41 and a highest score of 64.
But Dravid chose to back Suryakumar’s skillsets of being a finisher at number six, despite him being dismissed for a hat-trick of ducks when India last faced off against Australia in ODIs in March this year.
"Firstly, I don’t think he needs to worry about the 27th. We have picked our team for World Cup and Surya is in it. We have made the decision to do that and completely backed him because he’s got a certain quality and ability that we have seen.
"Yes, that’s been seen in T20Is, but we know the kind of impact he can make at number six and change the course of the game. There is total clarity on we being behind him and that he will be able to turn it around. He will certainly get the first couple of games to develop and grow in his journey as a one-day cricketer. But in terms of selection, we have made a decision."
Dravid insisted India will look to use the series against Australia to play batters in positions where they would be batting in the World Cup, citing Ishan Kishan’s example as someone who could possibly play a dual role of opening the batting and be a middle-order bat.
"We can't make everyone bat in exactly the same positions because two or three of them are probably going to get into the final 11 of the World Cup. So, ideally, I think we will be looking to bat people in the positions that we think they might be playing the World Cup in at this point of time. Of course, with someone like Ishan, he has been picked also as someone who can do both roles.
"He has done the middle-order role for us. But he is that spare batsman in the team who can bat up the order as we have seen as well. So, he gives us that flexibility apart from the fact that he is a wicket-keeper. The fact that he can bat in the middle-order and he can bat at the top of the order is a nice flexibility for us to have," he concluded.