After the Virat Kohli vs Sourav Ganguly controversy, it now seems there is another war of words in Indian cricket. This time between veteran off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and former head coach Ravi Shastri. In a recent interview with ESPN Cricinfo, Ashwin had revealed that he felt crushed when Shastri said after the New Year Test in Sydney in 2019 that Kuldeep Yadav would be India’s No. 1 overseas spinner. In response, Shastri told The Indian Express that he felt he did nothing wrong and that his job was not to butter everyone’s toast. He also added that he was glad he made the statement, for it made Ashwin do something different.
During his interview, Ashwin also lamented that he sometimes felt that rules for him and others were different in the team regarding injury issues. He also made the shocking revelation that he contemplated retirement from the game multiple times between 2018 and 2020 for a number of reasons. In an ironic sense, Shastri’s reply to Ashwin has justified his claim that he received different treatment in the team to others.
Why no strong words for Pujara, Rahane?
While Shastri said during his no-holds-barred interview that his job is not to butter everyone’s toast but to state facts without agenda, he never applied the same rule to batters Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara or, for that matter, even Test skipper Virat Kohli. On the contrary, when The New Indian Express asked whether India considered dropping Rahane and Pujara in England, Shastri replied philosophically, “It is very easy to get rid of players if they failed in one or two innings. But you should know that experience is not sold in the market and can’t be bought. It is something you earn and unless you have a replacement, double that experience, you should not think about quality.”
For the record, India’s No. 3 and No. 5 haven’t failed in one or two innings, as claimed by Shastri. Pujara hasn’t scored a Test ton since the 2019 New Year Test in Sydney, the same match in which Kuldeep claimed that five-for has come back into the limelight following Ashwin and Shastri’s statements. As for Rahane, he hit a ton a year back in the famous Boxing Day Test at the MCG against Australia. However, he has precious little to show for before and after that. During the entire tour of England, only once did he look in any kind of form. That was when he cracked that crucial half-century at Lord’s and featured in an important partnership with Pujara. There is no point in putting out their poor numbers, for they have been out in the open after every Test failure, which has been very frequent.
There is no harm in a team and the coach backing its players. The problem, however, arises when there is added security for some and harsh words for others in the name of being shown the facts. It is not difficult to understand why Ashwin said he felt like he was being thrown under the bus. He may have been struggling with form and fitness. But what he would have expected is the fair treatment and not partial behavior.
Ashwin’s brilliant record in 2021
Despite not being picked for all the four Tests in England, Ashwin is the leading wicket-taker in Tests in 2021. He has 52 wickets from eight matches at a brilliant average of 16.23. And, it was not as if he had a poor series in Australia at the start of the year. Even as the pacers excelled, Ashwin did a fine job by unsettling the big names like Steve Smith until he got injured. And yet, he did not play in any Test in England.
A comparison between the cases of Rahane-Pujara and Ashwin may sound very unfair. Perhaps it is. But following Shastri’s proclamation that his job is not to butter everyone’s toast, the question needs to be asked. Are there different yardsticks for different people in the Indian team?