Kolkata: Will he? Won’t he? The focus is firmly on whether Ravi Ashwin, the premier spinner, be a part of the playing XI as India and England go into the fourth Test at The Oval from Thursday - looking to wrest the initiative back with the five-Test series poised at 1-1.
The dilemma over fielding Ashwin in place of one of the four pace bowlers had been simmering for the last two Tests - and there are signs that Indian skipper Virat Kohli may be relenting on persisting with a four-fronged pace attack at the Oval wicket. The venue is known to be a batting strip which favour the spinners as the match wears on but India’s bowling coach Bharath Arun preferred to keep the cards close to his chest before the media.
Dismissing any injury concern for Ravindra Jadeja, Arun said it was blown out of proportion due to the bowler posting a picture of his in hospital attire and he is fit to play the fourth Test against England.
“It was just a very, very normal precautionary scan that he went through. All he had to do was to wear the hospital dress and he took a picture of that and that created a big scam. There is nothing to it and Jadeja is absolutely fit,” said Arun.
Arun did not rule out the possibility of playing both Ashwin and Jadeja, but said they would take a call on Thursday morning. “It depends on the conditions. Depends on so many other things, the wicket, the conditions and all these things. Ashwin, no doubt, is one of the best bowlers we have but it is unfortunate he has not played so far. But if there is an opportunity and if we feel that he is going to fit into the scheme of things, they definitely would both be bowling in tandem,” added Arun.
Over the last 10 years, two off-spinners - Moeen Ali, named as England vice-captain for the match in the absence of Jos Buttler and Nathan Lyon - feature among the top five wicket-takers at the venue.
Those rooting for Ashwin’s inclusion include former England captain Nasser Hussain. “What India do have is an off-spin bowler ranked No. 2 in the world and a batsman good enough to have made five Test centuries in Ravichandran Ashwin. He should have played at Headingley against England’s five left-handers and he must play at The Oval,” Hussain wrote in his column.
Ashwin is currently the highest Test wicket-taker in the Indian team with 413 scalps in 79 games and is also the fourth-highest Test wicket taker for India, only four wickets behind third-placed Harbhajan Singh.
Dinesh Karthik, former Indian wicketkeeper and now a TV pundit, also believes that the time is ripe for Ashwin to make his first appearance of the ongoing Test series. Ashwin’s last outing at The Oval came in July while playing for Surrey in the County Championship, where he had claimed a 6/27 in the match against Somerset.
“I believe the time is ripe for Ravichandran Ashwin to make his first appearance of the series. Traditionally, The Oval has thrown up some of the flattest pitches in England and it has been no different this season. Three of Surrey’s five matches at home in the County Championship have ended indecisively, and ten hundreds have been registered in those games,” Karthik said in his column for The Telegraph.