Team India made a stunning decision to drop seasoned off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin from the playing XI for the first Test against England at Nottingham in Trent Bridge. Announcing the team at the toss, Indian captain Virat Kohli revealed that they are going in with left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja as the sole spinner. While picking the pacers became easy with the injury to Ishant Sharma, giving both Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur a look in, the toss-up in the spin department was always going to be between Ashwin and Jadeja although another left-arm spinner, Axar Patel, is also part of the squad.
The decision to go with Jadeja was obviously taken with the motive to strengthen the batting. However, in pure cricketing terms, the move was highly unfair. Along with the others, Ashwin also enjoyed his vacations in the UK. But, in between, he also took part in a county encounter, in which he sparkled with six wickets in the second innings. Following the performance, Ashwin’s confidence would have been on a high and he would have been raring to go in the Test series. As things panned out, it turned out to be an anti-climax and Ashwin warmed the benches for the first Test.
No reason for Ashwin to be dropped
If we look at Ashwin’s bowling performances in recent times even away from home, they have been top-notch. In fact, he was the best Indian bowler in the World Test Championship (WTC) final against New Zealand, by some distance, on a surface where the pacers were supposed to do the job but failed. Ashwin picked up two wickets in both innings and even contributed a few with the bat. In contrast, Jadeja had precious little to do in the WTC final with either bat or ball.
Further, the 34-year-old veteran cricketer also made a significant contribution in the Test series win in Australia earlier this year. He picked up 12 wickets in three matches at a very good average of 28.83, given the conditions on offer, with a best of 4 for 55. Ashwin also contributed with the bat, playing that stonewalling innings of 39 not out in Sydney, which helped India save the Test. True, Jadeja has shown significant improvement in his batting and is definitely a more dependable batter than Ashwin. He showed that with his first-innings half-century in Nottingham as well. However, fitting Jadeja in at the expense of Ashwin still doesn’t sound fair.
Does Ashwin get the respect he deserves?
Following his axing for the first Test in Nottingham, this question must be haunting Ashwin’s fans. For someone who is among India’s most successful bowlers ever in the traditional format of the game, with 413 wickets from 79 Tests at an average of under 25, does Ashwin really get the respect he deserves? This is not the first time he has been dropped from the Test XI rather unceremoniously. He was left out of the Sydney Test at the start of 2019 and then benched during the tour of the West Indies. In an interview last year, Ashwin reacted to him being dropped and said: “Either I take fifers or I get dropped.”
Making an interesting observation towards the end of 2020, Indian legend Sunil Gavaskar had stated that Ashwin often pays the price for his ‘forthrightness’ and ‘speaking his mind at meetings’ and not exactly for his cricketing performances. “For far too long Ashwin has suffered not for his bowling ability of which only the churlish will have doubts, but for his forthrightness and speaking his mind at meetings where most others just nod even if they don’t agree,” Gavaskar had written in his column for Sportstar.
In the wake of the developments in Nottingham, one is bound to think that there is some truth in Gavaskar’s statement. And, that being the case, the loss is ultimately that of Indian cricket.