ICC Hall of Famer Mahela Jayawardena has cast his eye over some of the key players in India's squad for the upcoming Asia Cup, shared how he’d get the biggest impact from Virat Kohli and discussed a left-field option to partner skipper Rohit Sharma at the top of the batting order.
India named a strong 15-player squad earlier this week for the six-team tournament that starts later this month, with pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah and fellow quick Harshal Patel the only big names missing – both due to injury.
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Former skipper Kohli and fellow top-order performer KL Rahul were among the players recalled for the UAE-based event, with India's first match of the tournament coming against arch-rival Pakistan at Dubai International Cricket Stadium on August 28.
The Asia Cup will play a vital role in deciding which players will feature for India at the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year.
What to do with Virat Kohli?
Kohli has only made four T20I appearances for his country this calendar year and was among a host of big names to sit out India's recent white-ball tour of the Caribbean against the West Indies.
The 33-year-old struggled for runs during the recent IPL tournament, managing just two half-centuries and a total of 341 runs from 16 innings for Royal Challengers Bangalore.
But Jayawardena - who saw Kohli up close during the IPL via his role as coach of Mumbai Indians – echoed the sentiments of Ricky Ponting recently by saying the experienced right-hander must be given every opportunity to find his best form during the Asia Cup in a hope he can travel to Australia later in the year in good touch.
"It is unfortunate what Virat is going through right now at the moment, but he is a quality player," Jayawardena told Sanjana Ganesan on the latest episode of The ICC Review.
"I believe Virat has the tools to come out of it (the form slump). He has done that in the past as well and I’m sure he’ll come through this.
"Class is permanent and form is temporary."
Is this the group to bring home the Asia Cup?— ICC (@ICC) August 9, 2022
India squad selection and balance both go under the microscope ahead of the tournament 🔬https://t.co/zLI9GI43cW
Is lack of match practice a concern for KL Rahul?
While Kohli has only played sporadically for his country of late, regular T20 opener KL Rahul has appeared even less as he has battled injuries and then picked up Covid-19 recently when closing in on a return.
Rahul looked to be in good touch at the IPL where he scored 616 runs for Lucknow Super Giants, but Jayawardena is worried that his recent lack of cricket at the highest level will work against him.
"That (Rahul's lack of cricket) would be a concern for India," Jayawardena noted.
"He has been out for a little while since the IPL, so having game time is quite crucial especially out there in the middle.
"The sooner he can get some game time and get that confidence back, is always going to help him, as well as the national team."
What other options do India have with their top-order?
If Rahul doesn't return to his best during the Asia Cup as the T20 World Cup closes in, Jayawardena supports India considering a left-field option to open the batting alongside skipper Rohit.
Jayawardena knows how good Rishabh Pant is during the middle and late overs of a T20I, but is confident the talented 24-year-old can be just as valuable at the top of the order.
Pant has opened the batting at T20I level just twice for India, but Jayawardena knows the importance of having a strong left-hand, right-hand combination at the top of a batting order.
"Even though he (Pant) hasn’t done that (open the batting) much in domestic cricket, he has the capacity to do that," Jayawardena said.
"Wherever he bats, you’re not going to change his game. He is going to be a very natural player so yes, it is an option (for Pant to open)."
India squad for Asia Cup: Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant, Deepak Hooda, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravi Bishnoi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Arshdeep Singh, Avesh Khan.
Standbys: Shreyas Iyer, Axar Patel, Deepak Chahar.
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