• Rohit backs India’s bench

    Captain Rohit Sharma believes India have the bench strength to make up for the absence of their injured stars when their T20 World Cup campaign gets under way against Pakistan.

    Mohammed Shami has been added to India’s 15-man squad to replace pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah, who is out with back issues, for the marquee tournament in Australia starting on Sunday.

    Key all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja is also missing the tournament due to injury, but Rohit insisted the team was ready for the challenge with the players at hand.

    “Injury is part and parcel of the sport. Injuries will happen if we play so many matches, so our focus for the last year was that we had to build bench strength,” Rohit told reporters at a media conference in Melbourne.

    “Our focus is to try and create backups and give them an opportunity. The bowlers, who have come with us in the World Cup, have played enough matches.”

    India, who last won a global title with their 2013 Champions Trophy, begin their campaign against Pakistan on 23 October in Melbourne.

    Shami (32) was a last-minute replacement after the team waited on his recovery from Covid-19, which made him miss the home series against Australia and South Africa.

    The veteran quick will meet up with the rest of the squad in Brisbane, where India will play two warm-up matches against the hosts and New Zealand.

    “Whatever we have heard about Shami has been very positive,” said Rohit. “His recovery after Covid has been good and he has had three to four bowling sessions with full intensity. All’s looking good with Shami.”

    Shami will join fellow fast bowlers Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Harshal Patel and Arshdeep Singh.

    Pakistan have welcomed back pace bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi, who recovered from a knee injury in a boost to their chances.

    Skipper Babar Azam, who turned 28 on Saturday and was presented with a birthday cake on the dais by Australia captain Aaron Finch, said Shaheen was fit and ready.

    “The way Shaheen has come back and he is fully fit and dedicated and we are looking forward to the tournament and play,” said Azam. “Pakistan has always produced good fast bowlers. Shaheen’s return has only made our fast bowling lot stronger.”

    Pakistan, who missed out on the title last year after losing in the semi-finals to eventual winners Australia, are fresh from winning a T20I tri-series in New Zealand.

    “The boys are confident and we will try to take this momentum into the World Cup,” said Babar, adding that he was expecting a high-intensity match against India in their tournament opener.

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    Simon Borchardt