As Virat Kohli and Co took to the field on Thursday for the fourth and decisive Test at the Oval, there were many things that surprised one and all, and not more than the continued exile of Ravichandran Ashwin from the playing XI.
Traditionally, the Oval is one venue that offers a lot more to the spinners, with the pitch expected to be good for batting, and Karthik reckons that given the fact that Ashwin recently played at The Oval and picked up a five-wicket-haul in a County Championship game should open the doors for him.
And Ashwin might be the No.2 Test bowler in the official ICC rankings, but that still hasn’t found him a place in India’s playing XI on the tour to England.
What works in Ashwin’s favour is his astonishing record against left-handers in Test matches. Ashwin is the first bowler to have dismissed left-handed batsman 200 times in Tests and with England expected to have five left-handed batsmen in their line-up, India have all the more reason to finally give their premier off-spinner a go with the series levelled at 1-1.
Ashwin and mysterious absence
Irrespective of the conditions available for the last Test match up north in Old Trafford — the venue for the fifth Test — whether it is too cold or not — it is also the home ground of England fast bowler James Anderson, which means that the Indians will have to watch out. The pitch may just have a tinge of green on it and, therefore, no Ashwin again? Worse, he is not being left because he is an inferior spinner compared to Jadeja.
But yes, Ashwin is definitely paying the price for a brittle middle-order that is performing well below expectations.
Leaving out the most experienced spinner in world cricket right now, from the playing XI has shocked many former cricketers and Farokh Engineer, who was at the Oval watching the fourth Test between India and hosts England on Day One, is aghast.
Cricket experts and fans were calling for inclusion in the XI after India lost the third Test by an innings and 76 runs at Headingley but he was ignored for the fourth time on the ongoing tour. Former England captain Michael Vaughan took to Twitter and said leaving out a player who has 413 wickets and five Test centuries is “madness.”
Before coming into this series. Ashwin had picked up a six-wicket haul in a County Championship game ahead of the England Test series but he was overlooked for the first three Tests.
Ashwin and the team management
While explaining his reason for leaving the spinner out and keeping Ravindra Jadeja in the team, Kohli said that since England has some left-handed players, Jadeja would be a better match-up for them. However, this reasoning was not accepted by many as Ravi Ashwin has dismissed the most left-handers in Test cricket.
In fact, he is the only bowler in Test history to dismiss 200 plus left-handed batsmen in the format.
The off-spinner’s last Test appearance was in the World Test Championship final against New Zealand, where he picked up four wickets and scored 29 runs. However, India lost the summit clash by eight wickets.
The 34-year-old Ashwin has so far played 79 Test matches and picked up 413 wickets, putting him at number four on India’s all-time wicket-takers’ list, behind stalwarts Anil Kumble, Kapil Dev, and Harbhajan Singh. In fact, Ashwin sits just four wickets shy of Harbhajan’s tally of 417.His spot instead went to Shardul Thakar, a medium-to-fast bowling allrounder who did manage to leave an impact on the pitch after adding crucial 57 runs for the eighth wicket before he was trapped with an LBW by Chris Woakes, on the final delivery of the 61st over and became the highest scoring Indian batsman on Day 1.