Express News Service
It is quite perplexing that of all the Tests that Ravichandran Ashwin hasn’t featured so far on this tour against England, the uproar reached a crescendo at The Oval on Thursday. Part of it has to do with the history of the venue. Of all the venues in England, The Oval is the one ground where visiting teams, especially ones from the sub-continent, feel at home.
It is supposed to be the batting-friendly pitch, where spinners come into play as the match progresses. And with India losing the third Test by a huge margin and Ravindra Jadeja not contributing much with the ball, the calls to include Ashwin for the fourth started well before the team left Leeds.
This is why the decision to leave out the off-spinner, with 413 Test wickets to his name, raised eyebrows on Thursday. Time will tell whether it’s a tactical blunder but the team management have gone ahead with four pacers as they expect spinners to have less of a role on a wicket that has a bit of grass cover. It is worth noting that Moeen Ali, the lone spinner in the XI, didn’t even get to bowl in the first innings.
“It depends on the conditions and pitches,” India’s bowling coach, B Arun, said about Ashwin’s omission on the eve of the Test. “Ashwin is one of the best bowlers we have. It is unfortunate he has not played so far. If we feel there is an opportunity and we feel he fits in the scheme of things, definitely they both will be bowling in tandem.”
With England bringing back Chris Woakes to go with James Anderson and Ollie Robinson, this was never going to be a dry surface. With the series locked at 1-1 apiece, the hosts were going to keep some grass, especially when there are crucial World Test Championship (WTC) points at stake. And considering England have a gruelling Ashes tour coming up where many of their regulars may miss it given the quarantine rules in Australia, every point counts.
Like how India preferred turners in the home series earlier this year with a WTC spot up for grabs, England have chosen to maximise their home advantage. India knew this was coming and this is why they have gone against popular perception by benching Ashwin the spinner, in favour of Jadeja, the batsman. This is not about Ashwin, the spinner vs Jadeja, the spinner. The conditions, as it is there to see, is loaded in favour of the seamers, so India’s logic has been why weaken the batting by omitting Jadeja who has made vital runs at Nottingham and Lord’s.
Since January 2020, India’s No 3, 4 & 5 put together an average of 28.29 in 14 Tests, the second-lowest among all Test-playing nations. In India’s defense, they have faced the most challenging situations on offer: New Zealand, Australia and England. Even in the home series against England, pitches suited spinners. So they have had to rely on lower-order for runs.
While doing so, India seem to overlook Ashwin’s batting, which was once so valuable to the team. He has five Test centuries to show, the last of it coming against Chennai in February and can’t be considered out of depth.
In short, Kohli & Co have made Ashwin the sacrificial lamb for the failure of the others, something most teams won’t even think about, especially given how the quality he brings.