‘Ask Ashwin and Shami if reputation is more important or winning World Cup?’ | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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'Ask Ashwin and Shami if reputation is more important or winning World Cup?': Ex-chief selector backs Rohit, Dravid

Oct 19, 2023 10:36 AM IST

It's a bitter pill to swallow. But the truth is, neither Ashwin nor Shami are automatic selections and that's likely to remain the same throughout the World Cup

Ravichandran Ashwin is the only top Indian cricketer who is always dispensable. Cheteshwar Pujara would come close but no other Indian cricketer was dropped from the XI as many times so easily in his prime as Ashwin – he is the No.1-ranked bowler in Tests by some distance and is also the current top wicket-taker among all active spinners across the globe. Does being a bowler and not a willow-wielder play a part? Sunil Gavaskar once briefly touched the point when India decided not to pick Ashwin for the World Test Championship final against Australia earlier this year. Would it have been so easy to drop the No.1-ranked batter from a WTC final?

Ashwin (second left) celebrates with India teammates(REUTERS)
Ashwin (second left) celebrates with India teammates(REUTERS)

As astonishing as it may sound, despite all of this, Ashwin continues being the crisis man of Indian cricket. He was shunted from white-ball cricket after the Champions Trophy in 2017 but when India's obsession with two wrist spinners crash-landed in the 2019 World Cup, they went back to Ashwin for the T20 World Cup in 2021 where he made three appearances. He was back to being India's lead spinner in the shortest format of the game. The situation remained the same till the next edition of the T20 World Cup in Australia in 2022 before the team management finally decided to focus on a new crop under the leadership of Hardik Pandya.

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But Ashwin and his comebacks were to write another fascinating chapter together. From being nowhere in contention for a berth in the squad for the ODI World Cup 2023, Ashwin was in the XI in India's tournament opener against Australia. The reason? Axar Patel's injury just before the tournament. This, however, hasn't guaranteed Ashwin a place in the XI for every match. In fact, he didn't featured in the next two games as Shardul Thakur was preferred at No.8.

Another cricketer has slowly but surely entered Ashwin's region. Mohammed Shami, India's lead pacer not too long ago, is yet to get a game in this World Cup. He too was called up at the eleventh hour when Jasprit Bumrah was ruled out of last year's T20 World Cup despite not playing a single T20I in close to a year. The similarities don't end there. Ashwin and Shami have been match-winners for India for about a decade, but neither is a first choice in the XI anymore, surely not in ODIs. Ashwin's selection is condition-specific, while Shami being kept out of the XI has a lot to do with the team combination – India prefer to go with only two frontline fast bowlers - and his inability to conjure up crucial lower-order runs like Shardul can.

'India picking the XI not on reputation but based on conditions and opposition'

It's a bitter pill to swallow. But the truth is, neither Ashwin nor Shami are automatic selections and the narrative is likely to persist throughout the World Cup no matter how hard it is for some former cricketers and fans to digest. And this has got nothing to do with their reputation. In fact, former India chairman of selectors, MSK Prasad, believes that Rohit Sharma and the Indian team management are spot on as far as team selection is concerned.

"What the team management is doing is absolutely right. If the wickets are conducive for spinners, then playing Ashwin is a good choice if it's a flat deck then someone like Shardul offers something with both and the ball becomes an option. As far as Shami is concerned, I think will only play when the team management feels they need to rest either Siraj or Bumrah. They are very well set with this kind of balance," Prasad told hindustantimes.com ahead of India's match against Bangladesh in Pune.

Prasad believes both Ashwin and Shami would agree with the team management's call.

"If you ask Ashwin, he will also agree with the team management's decision. Do we require to win the championship or do we go on reputation? If we go by reputation then Siraj shouldn't be playing, Shami should. This team has great camaraderie. Everybody has accepted this combination. As a fan, it pains me to see Shami sitting outside but if I'm thinking from the captain's perspective, the decisions he is taking are fantastic ones. They are not going on reputation. They want to win the tournament by fielding the best possible XI on that particular day against that particular opposition," he said.

Shami and Ashwin are unlucky but India making the right choice

Shami is good. On some days, he's even the best but on current form, Mohammed Siraj - he has the most powerplay wickets in the last 15 months than any other bowler in ODIs - and Bumrah are miles ahead. So, if India want to field two pacers with Hardik Pandya being the third, Siraj and Bumrah will always pip Shami. The thought of playing Shami, Siraj and Bumrah in the same XI is romantic but not practical. That would mean a tail longer than any other team in the World Cup. Why not pick Ashwin at No.8 in place of Kuldeep Yadav and play the three seamers, you ask? Again, not possible. Kuldeep has more wickets in the middle overs than any other Indian spinner in recent times and the leading wicket-taker in ODIs this year. He has shown what he can do even on flat decks in this World Cup.

Okay... Shami's situation is understood. He can only come into the XI when India decide to rest either Siraj and Bumrah but why can't Ashwin play in place of Shardul in every match? Pitches in India have shown that an extra spinner won't hurt. It won't but not every time. Take the Delhi match against Afghanistan as an example. Kuldeep and Ravindra Jadeja picked up only 1 wicket in their 18 overs while the combination of Hardik and Sharul picked up three in 13. On placid batting tracks and short boundaries, an extra seamer is what would help keep the runs down than a finger spinner.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Aritra Mukherjee, who happens to be a journalist, is in an eternal relationship with food and sleep. He can, however, sacrifice both or at least the latter for his love-affair with cricket. 'He said,' 'he added,' 'he signed off' are some of his favourite phrases. When not juggling between food, sleep and cricket, he wastes time by surfing OTT platforms.

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