After the toss on Wednesday, MS Dhoni explained why the team management had retained Piyush Chawla for the Netherlands game despite the leg-spinner going for plenty in the previous two games.
Many had hoped the hosts would use the match, expected to be their last easy outing, to experiment. That meant giving talented offie R Ashwin his first World Cup game and including left-arm paceman Ashish Nehra, who had been sidelined with a back strain.
“Piyush Chawla stays. Compared to Ashwin, Chawla needs more practice so we decided to play him today. Ashwin is mentally stronger and it doesn't matter against whom he comes in, he will do well,” Dhoni said at the toss.
Dhoni should know, as he also captains the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, that local boy Ashwin is an asset.
Chawla was recalled for the World Cup after more than two years. He promised much when he claimed a four-wicket haul on a helpful pitch to defeat Australia in the warm-up game in Bangalore.
However, he has struggled in the World Cup. Included for India’s second game against England, he returned a poor two for 71 and went for runs and helped the chasing side clinch a tie.
Brought on early against Ireland at the same venue, but on a slower and slightly more helpful pitch, Chawla failed to take a wicket, returning 0-56.
There appeared a strong case to play Ashwin against the Dutch, even if it meant fielding two off-spinners because Harbhajan Singh, who has been economical, has struggled to take wickets.
He returned with none for 31 against the Netherlands, taking just two wickets in the four games so far. India have been bailed out in the last two matches by Yuvraj Singh's increasingly effective part-time spin. He added two more scalps against the Dutch to his five-wicket haul against Ireland.
India next face South Africa in Nagpur, which will be a tough contest, and then the West Indies in their final league game.
Former batsman Sanjay Manjrekar found Dhoni's take on Ashwin interesting. “Saying Ashwin is ready for big battles is interesting, but he captains him in CSK. We have to see,” he said.
Ashwin, also 24 like Chawla, has played seven ODIs, all last year, taking a wicket in each one of them. That included 11 in the five-game home series against New Zealand. He has been praised for his ability to bowl with the new ball and operate during the Powerplay field restriction periods.
Whether Ashwin gets a look-in before the knockout, or will be preserved as Dhoni's trump card, time will tell.