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India vs England: R Ashwin's omission for Trent Bridge Test sparks debate

The off-spinner with over 400 Test wickets has been in great form, taking a six-for in a County game to suggest he was ready for English conditions.
By Sanjjeev K Samyal, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON AUG 04, 2021 07:26 PM IST
India's R Ashwin bowls during the World Test Championship final. (Getty Images)

In the India team picked for the World Test Championship final, there was one debatable selection - Ravindra Jadeja. His services with the ball were used for a total of 15.2 overs in the match. Mainly there to lend depth in batting, his contribution was 15 and 16 runs.

At the end of that defeat to New Zealand, his selection came under focus and the question asked was whether India should have played an extra pacer in his place?

In the playing XI picked for the first Test against England at Trent Bridge on Wednesday, there was another surprise in store. Jadeja retained his place while the team’s No. 1 spinner, R Ashwin, was left out. With the pace bowlers having a great record at Trent Bridge, India went in with four pacers and a lone spinner. One would have thought it was a straight-forward decision if India picked one spinner - Ashwin.

Also Read | 'He's a class bowler and you can't keep him out of the XI': Laxman surprised over R Ashwin's omission from 1st Test

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The argument in Jadeja’s favour is that he is a better batsman than Ashwin. If you are going in with six batsmen, with Pant at No. 6, then you need Jadeja at No. 7. But Ashwin is no mug with the bat. He showed in the WTC final as well that he is the No. 1 spinner in the side, and he is in form, having bowled impressively in the second innings at Southampton.

He underlined his form again ahead of the five-Test series with a superb match-turning spell of 6/27 as Surrey bundled out Somerset for 69 in their second innings in an English County Championship game.

Clearly the Indian team has looked at balance first while picking their playing XI. The other way of team selection is you first write down your main players and then search for balance by adding the rest of the names. If done this way, Ashwin will be among the first to be chosen with Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rishabh Pant, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami. In that case, you know Ashwin is not your ideal No. 7, so it becomes three pacers and one specialist spinner. With so much assistance available for the pacers, one would expect three pacers to do the job.

Also Read | India vs England Live Score, 1st Test, Day 1

Another issue is in bowling-friendly conditions, it's batting that needs cover. A specialist batsman had to get the nod over an extra bowler. Hanuma Vihari had a strong case to be in the XI as he is a part time off-spinner too.

Of all venues, Trent Bridge has had the best pitches in County cricket this season with good bounce and carry, conditions ideally suited to Ashwin’s style of bowling.

May be what happened in India during the last series could have played on the team management’s mind. There is an argument of left-arm spinner Axar Patel doing well against England earlier this year at home, taking 27 wickets in three Tests. But Ashwin also found success, finishing with 32 wickets in four Tests.

“Wow … No @ashwinravi99!!!!” tweeted former England captain Michael Vaughan, who said India should have played two spinners.

Former India batsman VVS Laxman felt India should have played Ashwin too. “I always felt that R Ashwin is a very skillful bowler. His recent overseas record is also brilliant. He did very well when India beat Australia in Australia. The way he bowled to Steve Smith showed that he is very confident. For me if you have to go with a bowler who will bat at No 8, I will always go for a bowler who can give me match-winning performances. I would have gone with the balance which they had in the WTC final where they had two spinners, Ashwin and Jadeja, and then three quick bowlers,” said Laxman during a discussion on cricket website ESPNCricinfo.

“In the past when have had four fast bowlers, one of them was under bowled. The logic I see is that Shardul Thakur bowled well in the Brisbane Test and also scored runs, it must have encouraged them (team management) to pick him. But I feel for Ashwin, he is a class bowler and should be in the playing XI,” added Laxman.

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