India vs England: Ravichandran Ashwin must stay focused despite Kuldeep Yadav lurking in the shadows
Ravichandran Ashwin will be a certainty if the Indian team management picks two spinners, but if they decide to go in with just one then it could be a toss-up between him and Kuldeep Yadav.cricket Updated: Jul 26, 2018 10:59 IST
The ongoing heatwave in England that could lead to pitches drier than usual means there will be high expectations from Ravichandran Ashwin. (IND v ENG full coverage)
The 31-year-old’s career statistics — 316 wickets from 58 Tests - suggest that he has been India’s No. 1 spinner and bowler in recent times.
However, whether he is able to make an impact on the series would depend on how ready he is to turn around his fortunes away from home and whether his aggressive skipper, Virat Kohli, believes his seasoned spinner is his No 1 choice away from home.
Ashwin will be a certainty if the Indian team management picks two spinners, but if they decide to go in with just one then it could be a toss-up between him and Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav, who is pushing for a spot as the one who can deliver wickets and keep England batsmen guessing.
Spinners, barring a select few, have not done too well in England, Australia or South Africa. The heroics of B Chandrasekhar in 1971 and Vinoo Mankad before him in England happened in a different era.
So fielding two spinners would be a strong call.
Ashwin’s bowling has strangely lost the sting after he was ignored for the limited-overs formats in the last one year. He faded away in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final, which convinced the Indian team management that wrist spin is the way to go forward.
But with Kuldeep looking a certainty and even leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal being goaded to play first-class cricket to prepare him for Tests in future, Ashwin will be under huge pressure going into this tour.
The lack of bite in pitches away from home has seen Ashwin struggle. In 2014, he played the last two Tests as India slid to a 3-1 defeat after being 1-0 up. He went wicketless at Old Trafford in his first game and took 3/72 at The Oval, as India lost both the games meekly.
Ashwin’s 12 wickets in three Tests in Australia, after being kept out of the first in Adelaide by stand-in skipper Virat Kohli who picked rookie leg-spinner Karn Sharma, proved to be a false dawn.
Not playing white-ball cricket can’t help, but Ashwin trying to hone leg-spin has left many experts sceptical about his focus. His Aussie counterpart Nathan Lyon has stuck to his strength regardless of the chances he gets.
Bowling leg-spin reflects anxiety over the limited-overs snub and it has not paid dividends even in local matches.
Former India spinner Maninder Singh urged Ashwin to stick to his strength.
“I’m waiting to see how he goes about in the series. When you are not playing regular cricket, it’s not easy. He is a very balanced person, but no doubt he is under pressure with these two spinners (Kuldeep and Chahal) around. The captain has also put his faith in wrist spinners, which will add to the pressure.
“It is time to show character. But it’s very dry in England and I’m certain India will play two spinners. In that case, he is in.”
Maninder criticised him for bowling leg-spin “instead of working on the skill you have been bowling all your life. But mentally people are different, and he thinks he can do it”.
While English county Worcestershire has asked Ashwin to stay on after the series and play two key first-class games, it is performance for India that will matter for the fighting cricketer.
First Published: Jul 26, 2018 08:46 IST