July 12, 2014

Why isn't Ashwin playing?

It's close to inexplicable how India's best spinner is being left out in favour of bits-and-pieces players

Why would India not pick Ashwin, who can trouble a line-up heavy on left-handers and bowl mystery spin, over a bowler who is at best a third-choice spinner? © BCCI

Someone please explain why R Ashwin is now a spectator? For a man who became the fastest Indian to take 100 Test wickets, who averages 40 as a lower-order batsman, and who has time and again fronted up under pressure in many forms, he has been managed dreadfully. Frankly, he would be my fourth automatic pick after MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara in this Indian Test team. He is a banker, yet he is being treated like a robber.

It was only natural that after a golden year or so as India's No. 1 Test bowler he would struggle for a period, as he did in a couple of Tests in South Africa in late 2013. Yet, by the 2014 World T20 he was back to his best, his mystery balls coming out with confidence. Throw in his resolute batting and reliable fielding and he is an ideal team man. But he is being treated like a wheelie bin, dumped on the side of the road. Instead, Stuart Binny is deemed the better Test player. Talk about a mystery.

India have a tremendous opportunity to topple this shaky England unit. To do so they need every department covered. Normally, spin would be India's sure thing. No longer is that case if Ravindra Jadeja is deemed your best spinner. It smacks of something extremely odd. Jadeja can bat, often flamboyantly and recklessly, and as a leftie at No. 7 he can do some damage. But his left-arm spin is nothing short of ordinary. At best he is a third-choice spinner in Indian conditions, where three are often needed. In England you just need your one best spinner - something England would kill for - and Ashwin has proven that he should be first choice and should bat at No. 8.

In a day and age where mystery spin is a must, it is astonishing that India don't want the one guy who can provide it. Add to that the point that England have five left-handers in their XI. Absolutely nothing makes sense in his non-selection and believe me it will be the one thing they will rue if and when the series gets away from them. To bank on Binny's bowling is only going to stir Geoffrey Boycott into referring to his grandmother again and again.

India's seam attack looks efficient and varied without needing to add mediocrity to it. It calls on swing from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, seam from Mohammed Shami, and bounce from Ishant Sharma, giving Dhoni options on these flat, lifeless pitches. Next he only needs to pull his head in over his choice of spinner and bring in Ashwin, a man who has won him matches, and the balance of attack will be complete. The only choice India need to make is whether to choose Jadeja or Binny as the extra batsman at No. 7. Their bowling is a rare back-up, the sort of stuff required five minutes before tea, an over or two between overs 78 and 80.

The choice Dhoni must make is between Stuart Binny and Ravindra Jadeja as the No. 7 batsman © Getty Images

M Vijay has done some serious work on his balance and footwork since the tour of New Zealand in March. It's an impressive comeback, for he looked lost at sea and on the outer. His first-innings century was a culmination of courage and hard work to get his game back into proper shape. Now, only Shikhar Dhawan needs to do the same and India have a line-up that will serve them well for the medium to long term.

This 42-day Test marathon, another ridiculous scheduling call by Giles Clarke, will not be a classic, but it will come down to moments and decisions. So far England are on the back foot simply due to their denial about what is sensible regarding Alastair Cook. He just needs to focus on finding his feet again. And apart from selecting Jos Buttler they don't have much else to call on to inspire this bunch. They are in a major rebuilding phase and they will do well to snatch any success in the next period. That's why Joe Root is the man to invest in leading this uncooked bird, long term.

India have a massive chance to do what Sri Lanka have just done. Somehow they have been swayed to think a bits-and-pieces player is going to do some damage. In the meantime, Ashwin, with one of the most impressive all-round records in Indian Test history, sits in the corner twiddling his thumbs. A mystery indeed.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 17, 2014, 17:21 GMT

    Ojha & Rohit should be included in place of Binney Jadeja..............Jorden must come in Eng & Moeen should replace Balance

  • Munawar on July 15, 2014, 16:17 GMT

    Dhoni did the right thing by dropping Ashwin from playing XI. Ashwin - an average Ranji level offie who has done well on crumbling, dusty, spinning tracks of sub-continent by being the lucky one (from CSK ranks) stands completely sorted out now by international batsmen. He was never a match for Bhajji and even now Bhajji is better than him. It was wrong to take Ashwin to England. Hope it is his last foreign tour with the team. Bhajji and Ojha - being more skilled bowlers than Ashwin and Jadeja (India doesn't need their batting skills but bowling skills. We need bowling specialist to man those positions in the team. If the top 6 batsmen will fail what one can expect from a No.7 or No.8 then. Amongst younger offies, Parvez Rasool is certainly few notches better than Ashwin and he bats better than Ashwin too. Look what he did to Aussies here in India with his 7 wickets in a warm up game and whenever he has got the chance he has done reasonably well. Jadeja was never good for Tests anyways

  • Cric on July 15, 2014, 10:39 GMT

    Bth Aswin and Ojha deservse chance.

    @Aswin: Have Played only 4 matches(in 2 series) in overseas .. bowled well in 2 and batted well in 3... this is better than HARBAJAN in early days( I agree.. ashwin never looked as dangarous as harbajan in his best times)

    @ Ojha: He proved in subcontinent.... well deserved for a chance in forgin soil

    @Misra: Yet to prove well in subcontinent while comparing ojha and aswin

    And if pitch not supported for spin definitely my pick will be either ashwin or jadeja ... As because OJHA&MISRA Can't do anything differently

  • Supratik on July 15, 2014, 2:10 GMT

    Martin, you yourself have just answered your own question. Ashwin struggled in overseas conditions and somehow "magically" found form again in the Asia Cup which INCIDENTALLY was played in the subcontinent -- hint hint?? In the subcontinent Ashwin has nothing to prove to anyone. Everyone knows his credentials there. However, everyone also knows that to be a successful OFFspinner overseas is a difficult art - harder to achieve than a legspinner. Many experts have pointed to Ashwin general lack of fitness and they have a point. To be a successful spinner overseas you need to put a lot of body & revs on the ball over & over again, ball after ball. To do it for 20-25 overs a day requires a lot of strength & endurance of the shoulders, abs, hips & legs. Ashwin has not shown this endurance yet and thats why he will continue to struggle overseas. Jadeja has, and that's why he has been more successfu recentlyl than Ashwin overseas.

  • Maksud on July 14, 2014, 22:23 GMT

    Definitely Ashwin can handle more pressure than Jadeja when batting. Also he bats with confidence and has got good shot selection. On the other hand Jadeja even though having 3 triple hundreds in domestic cricket looked very ordinary against Anderson & Co. I can see Ashwin coming in place of Jadeja in the 2nd Test. Also india should try Dhawan for one more game and see if he can contribute. Otherwise they should give a chance to Gambhir, who have loads of experience as well as full of confidence after the IPL win.

  • Rajat on July 14, 2014, 16:00 GMT

    Given Jadeja's lack of penetration at Trent Bridge and his difficulties in facing Anderson, it miakes sense to include Ashwin in Lords. Stuart Binny had a different role but with the emergence of Bhuvaneswar's batting skills, perhaps he may not be required. Instead India should consider either Pankaj Singh or Aaron as the 4th seamer. If India's seamers have to bowl 100 overs every innings, the workload needs to be divided amongst 4 of them. Stuart bowling 10 overs hardly provides any relief. In a different setting, Stuart may be useful, but for Lords Ashwin and a genuine seamer should come in place of Jadeja and Stuart.

  • Bhaskar on July 14, 2014, 13:25 GMT

    Dhoni's faulty logic is Sri Lanka played a left arm spinner Rangana Hereth & won the test so I should also play Jadeja. Dhoni is not a super thinker in test cricket, he just apes other successful team captains. Dhoni's record in test captaincy is abysmal to say the least, he should be asked to play as a keeper+batsman & Gambhir should be given the captaincy in tests.

    The test playing 11 should be as under. Gambhir Vijay Pujara Kohli Rahane Dhoni Ashwin Jadeja Bhuvi Ishwar Pandey Shami

  • Ashok on July 14, 2014, 13:07 GMT

    A good Question, Martin- Why Indeed? My first justification for including Ashwin in the XI is England had 6 LH batsmen in the XI. An off spinner will counter the LH bats. Secondly Ashwin is not just a bowler but one who has reached 100 Wkts. in fastest time in Test Cricket. That needs special skills & need to be exploited- Not Benched! Thirdly, Ashwin is an excellent batsman, who unfortunately has to play #8 in batting. He has scored several 50's & a Test century. Strictly speaking he fulfills the role of an all rounder. His only short coming is he is a bit slow on his feet. I fully understand that on English pitches, spinners have less of a chance of success. But replacing Ashwin with either Jadeja or Binny is not the answer. When England's Bowlers- LH Broad or LH Anderson- can score heavily against India without an off spinners, it begs the question, Why is Ashwin Benched?

  • Abhishek on July 14, 2014, 6:35 GMT


    Can we bring back Pragyan Ohja as specialist spinner? Your views please..

  • Kannan on July 14, 2014, 6:08 GMT

    Ashwin as an off spinner doesn't have the confidence to bowl over the wicket. He relies on variations rather than consistency. In the long Test format against batsmen of standing he will always be found wanting and that's how he got shown up in South Africa even on a 5th day wicket.

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