Umesh Yadav
India’s Umesh Yadav bowls during Day 1 of the ICC World Test Championship cricket final against Australia at The Oval, in London, on June 7, 2023. Yadav went wicketless as Australia overcame early trouble to post a good score. Image Credit: AFP

Did India err again? It looks like dropping Ravichandran Ashwin is a mistake. More so since Umesh Yadav has been expensive on the first day of the World Test Championship final against Australia. Worse, he never looked like taking wickets with his outswingers on Wednesday.

It’s easy to understand why India chose Yadav ahead of Ashwin. The grey overcast skies at The Oval must have been compelling enough to opt for a four-man seam attack and a spinner in allrounder Ravindra Jadeja. But by afternoon, the skies were blue and bereft of clouds.

Yet Mohammed Sami and Mohammed Siraj posed plenty of problems to the batters with their swing. Even Shardul Thakur kept things tight and tidy, But Yadav was disappointing, unable to strike a good line and length to exploit the help from the wicket as.

It helped David Warner break free of the shackles and keep the Australian score moving with a clump of boundaries. Those loose deliveries in conditions helpful for seamers were enough to turn the thoughts to Ashwin. The wicket may not offer turn, but the off-spinner is clever enough to take wickets without assistance from the pitch.

The Ashwin threat

Ashwin has a good repertoire of variations and flights the ball very well. The drift in the air and the bounce off the pitch would have made him a threat. After all, he’s got a good record against the Australians, and his off-breaks would have been handy against the four left-handers — Usman Khawaja, David Warner, Travis Head and Alex Carey.

Ravichandran Ashwin
India’s Ravichandran Ashwin practises ahead of the ICC World Test Championship cricket final against Australia at The Oval, in London, on June 4, 2023. The off-spinner was left out of the team when the final started on June 7. Image Credit: Reuters

“Australia have many left-handers; Ashwin would trouble the left-handers more than Jadeja. I saw the grass, yes there was grass, but the deeper I looked, it seemed dry to me,” former Australian captain Ricky Ponting said on Star Sports.

The tinge of green must have certainly swayed India’s decision. Maybe, they didn’t want to repeat the mistake from the last World Test Championship final, when they opted for a 3-2 seam-spin attack, while New Zealand won with the help of four seamers and a mediumpacer in Colin de Grandhomme.

But then, the conditions in Southampton in 2019 were vastly different. The ground had a solid drenching, and the heavy overcast weather continued throughout the match, which was repeatedly interrupted by rain. That made the decision to field two spinners a grave mistake, as Jajeja and Ashwin struggled to make an impact.

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So to avoid the mistake of the past, India may have committed another blunder if Yadav’s first day’s bowling is any indication. India may rue the decision if Ponting’s assessment of the pitch turns out to be correct. And the Australians are looking to run up a massive first innings score after scoring 327/3 on the strength of Travis Head’s century.

If India cannot reel them in on the second day, the Yadav selection would have cost them the match. The only way to salvage the situation rests with Yadav. If he can finetune his line and length to trouble the batters and grab some quick wickets to keep Australia inside 400, India can be back in the match. Then the onus is on the batters to seize the initiative.

Till then, the Ashwin decision will haunt the Indians.