When India’s squad was announced after the toss in the first Test, I thought I heard it wrong when Virat Kohli said Ravi Ashwin was not playing. I refreshed my mobile and saw the squad and it was true that India had opted for an extra seamer in Shardul Thakur ahead of Ashwin.
It was a gutsy decision by Kohli to not pick your ace spinner who, had been exceptional for Team India and was the highest wicket taker in the last two years. He also had done well in the county game where Ashwin had picked six wickets in an innings and every expert felt India had taken a very bold decision to leave him out and go one with one spinner in Ravindra Jadeja.
Indian pacers did manage to prove the captain’s decision right when they bowled England out for just 183 runs and it was all by their pacers with Jadeja bowling just three overs. In the second innings too, Jadeja just bowled 13 overs but went wicketless as it was again the pacers who got all the 10 wickets for India. Ashwin’s replacement Shardul picked up four wickets in the match and got two big wickets - that of Joe Root and Jose Buttler - and the decision of the skipper picking him seemed justified even though Shardul failed with the bat.
When Michael Atherton asked Kohli about Ashwin’s exclusion at the post-match presentation, his answer was there it would be a template going ahead in the series and players would be picked according to the conditions. That means Ashwin would be picked only on a spin-friendly track and with Jadeja doing well with the bat by scoring a half-century, it would be difficult for Ashwin to get a place in the Indian team.
Again a bold answer from the captain but mind you in Australia, it was Ashwin who was the most successful spinner and outbowled Nathan Lyon in that series. Even in the World Test Championship finals, it was Ashwin who provided the breakthrough in both the innings and looked the most threatening bowler on a green wicket in Southampton.
The question hence on everyone’s mind is how can you leave out India’s number one spinner? I believe Ashwin is paying the price for being part of a squad with too many bowling options - but none of them good enough to bat at number seven. If England’s weather changes drastically and the heatwave make the green pitches turn it brown, Ashwin might be back in contention.
I vividly recall an incident when Ashwin was at my office for a motivational speech. It was soon after he had just lost his place in the team playing for ICC Champions trophy where he said: “This Indian team is very competitive, only the best get to play”. How true he was that teams are selected only on the basis of conditions and form.
Whatever happens in the next four matches for Ashwin, one thing is for sure that even the best of best players can’t be assured of their place in this very talented Indian team. This is what keeps every player on their toes and one’s loss is someone’s gain - as we saw with KL Rahul grabbing his place now ahead of Mayank Agarwal.
- Cricket enthusiast and businessman Anis Sajan is the Vice Chairman of Danube Group