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Rotation deepening India's bowling pool

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'Need a pool of bowlers to choose from' - Arun (1:11)

India bowling coach Bharat Arun discusses the rotation policy among the fast bowlers (1:11)

Whether Virat Kohli gets time off in December or not, India's relentless schedule is surely leading them to field different bowling attacks in different formats. It has not only translated into success across formats but also provided India with a bigger pool of bowlers to choose from for the 2019 World Cup.

In the last few months, India have consistently rested or "rotated out" the leading Test bowlers from limited-overs matches, often leading to speculation that they were dropped or had gone out of favour. The most recent example was Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami being left out of the ODI squad to face New Zealand, even though both bowlers played only one game each in the previous ODI series against Australia.

India's bowling coach B Arun on Sunday confirmed that the volume of matches had led to the think-tank managing the workload of the bowlers to keep them fresh and reduce their susceptibility to injury.

"If you look at Shami and Umesh, they are your No. 1 Test bowlers," Arun said. "And Bhuvneshwar [Kumar] and [Jasprit] Bumrah have been exceptional and possess all the skills to do well in one-day competitions. With the volume of cricket India is going to play, it is very important that we have a pool of bowlers to choose from so that they remain fresh for every form of the game that we play.

"You've got to consider the weather, consider the workload, how much they have bowled in the match, how much they have bowled at practice. Based on that, it's not just the decision of the bowling coach, it is a combined decision of the physio, trainer and the bowling coach."

The strategy to give the leading Test bowlers a break started when the selectors rested R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh and Shami from the ODI and T20 leg of the Sri Lanka tour in August. Those four bowlers had been picked for the Champions Trophy in June and then flew to the West Indies for both ODIs and T20Is, playing their first match only five days after the Champions Trophy final at The Oval.

Since then, Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah have led the pace attack in the shorter formats, accompanied by the spin trio of Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel. Among these spinners, only Chahal is over 24 years old and only Axar has featured in over 25 international limited-overs matches. But the new-look pace attack and the inexperienced spin trio have combined forces along with the additional bowling option of Hardik Pandya to seal ODI series wins in the Caribbean (3-1), Sri Lanka (5-0), and at home against Australia (4-1). India have only lost two out of the four T20Is they have played in the same period.

"Well, these two boys (Chahal and Kuldeep) have done exceptionally well for us and we would like to take a good look at them before we could come upon a combination for the [2019] World Cup." Arun said. "So far, they have shaped exceptionally well."

Ashwin has been India's busiest bowler since the 2015 World Cup, featuring in 58% of international matches across formats. When compared globally, he ranks 16th among bowlers who have played the most matches for their teams. Shakib Al Hasan tops the list having played 92% of Bangladesh's matches, followed by Moeen Ali (82%) and Kagiso Rabada (81%).

It shows India have not been over-reliant on Ashwin since the World Cup. Among Indians, Jadeja is the only other bowler to have played over 50% of internationals since the World Cup. However, as many as four other bowlers have played over 40% of India's games, clearly showing how the workload has been shared. England is the only other team that has six bowlers who have played over 40% of their international matches in the same period.

Kohli had also brought up India's hectic schedule over the last year and is likely to be rested in December against Sri Lanka. He had also said on Sunday that trying younger bowlers in ODIs was helping India add to their options for the next World Cup.

"This is something we need to experiment with to find our best bowling combination before reaching the World Cup stage," Kohli had said before the first ODI against New Zealand. "We always had in mind to bring wristspinners into play. We honestly didn't think of playing two together but they are so good together that it is very tempting to play them every game. Also, we will have to see how much we expose certain bowlers playing across formats. With batsmen it is very different, with bowlers it is even more difficult because you really need to change the way you bowl according to formats. That can hamper the most important format for us, i.e. Test cricket.

"So, it's been a combination of both, giving guys the chances and understanding the workloads of players who have played for a while. Ashwin and Jadeja have played limited-overs cricket for the last six-seven years regularly. These youngsters have stepped up, it creates a strong pool for us before World Cup."

To ensure the Test bowlers don't get rusty during such breaks and remain fresh for the longer format, they have also been featuring in the Ranji Trophy.

"We encourage them to play first-class cricket," Arun said. "Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav have been playing first-class cricket and Shami has done pretty well for Bengal. It's to balance the workload. It's like this - too much or too little of bowling is not good for the bowlers, so we come to a via media where they bowl enough and play enough number of matches so that they stay fit and sharp when we require them."

With stats inputs from Shiva Jayaraman