August 2, 2014

Have India missed the boat?

They made a wrong move by refusing to pick Ashwin; Kohli and Pujara have not come good; and Jadeja has only flattered to deceive

And so the moment was lost. In the instant when Ishant Sharma was ruled out in Southampton, Ravi Ashwin had to be reinstated. In what could haunt MS Dhoni for the rest of this series, he instead chose another rookie, Pankaj Singh. In that moment he totally went against the book.

Extraordinary really, especially when you consider the state of the pitch over the five days - dry underneath, perfect for spin later. Ashwin's experience needed to replace Ishant Sharma's, let alone his proven wicket-taking skill. I fell over when I heard a debutant was in, and a sarcastic tweet followed.

No, this is not a take from the book of hindsight, this has been a consistent theme throughout. In the book of winning Tests, you must always pick your four best-quality bowlers. At Lord's, India got away with selecting only three, and magnificently, Ajinkya Rahane, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant made up for repeated selection shortcomings.

From day one of this series, the exclusion of Ashwin has been absolutely mind-blowing. If the inclusion of Stuart Binny was fraught, then the more I think of it the fixation with Ravi Jadeja has been the worst of all. Not only is Jadeja a loose cannon with the bat, he is the complete opposite with the ball: defensive, negative, lacking in skill. Throw in his altercation with James Anderson and the catch he dropped off Alastair Cook. That straightforward drop could well be the turning point of this series, of Cook's career, and it should spell the end of the bits-and-pieces one-day cricketer that Jadeja ultimately is. There is no doubt his 68 at Lord's took the match away from England but if we are honest, it was a lucky, often flukey, display. In a nutshell, he lacks Test match temperament.

I have already waxed lyrical about Ashwin previously. As I said then, and I will repeat, India will rue his exclusion more than any other mistake they have made on this tour. And while Dhoni's stubborn defence of his choice is a given, the team that can play by the book will take out this close battle. With what has happened this week involving the Indian captain, following a lot of good work at Lord's, it is clear he has, strangely, started reading from the wrong script.

Surprisingly, Virat Kohli has struggled to post anything significant. He is close, simply because he is that good, but England have had him nicely in their sights with their mode of attack, and his inexperience on those shores has shown. Man, will future England bowlers pay for this pain he has endured.

Cheteshwar Pujara too has faltered, and this is not a surprise given it is impossible to maintain the glorious start he had. Once he clears the second-year blues and goes back to playing straighter, he will be the wall whose shoes he has been chosen to fill. India had their chance to move this series forward with England on their knees, and Dhoni, Kohli and Pujara missed the boat in Southampton.

Peter Moores should take a bow for his cool assessment between Tests in regard to his senior players. His call to shed the responsibility tag and go out and express oneself as if it's a first Test was smart, and shows how a coach can make a difference at the appropriate time. Duncan Fletcher will need to have similar words to his men en route to Manchester.

England can thank Gary Ballance for his steadfast calm. While Cook played nervously on day one, Ballance provided the backbone that Cook and Bell could use to finally break their bleak spell. The Zimbabwean is a good 'un. Mentally clear, organised and hungry, he could not have come into such form or position at a better time - in the nick of time, with England's senior top order either burnt out or cooked. Ballance was the one who provided the superglue for a team on the brink of collapse.

On the subject of collapse, it is alarming to see this Anderson-Jadeja spat having escalated to the point it did, but thankfully it has been thrown out for a lack of evidence and a lot of classroom hearsay. It's pathetic on many levels. Firstly, Anderson has been guilty of this crass sledging-type behaviour before and needs to pull his head in fast. If Cook and Moores can't see that then they will lose him long term; surely any more incidents will result in removal one way or the other. Clearly Anderson needs help in this area.

Secondly, Dhoni has taken it too far in the way in which he decided to bag the match referee, David Boon, over the Jadeja ruling. Is Dhoni too, like Anderson, becoming a law unto himself? Talk about living in glass houses.

The game at present, with so much of the stench of match-fixing hovering in the air, does not need this kind of behaviour. Anderson and Dhoni need a holiday, which they won't get thanks to this mad scheduling. They are not serving the game as they should, given their long standing. Let the skills you are privileged to display tell the story, inspiring many, not the commentary that follows. Plenty of time for yapping when the body can speak no more.

This series could well come down to these two bodies, as you might expect. Anderson may have survived the silly inquest, and therefore England are in a strong position, with the shift of momentum now obvious on and off the field. Or it might yet come down to whether Dhoni has the notion to ask Ashwin to drop the crime novel he is devouring and get out there and win a Test match again. Before the last chapter is read.

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 August 5, 2014, 15:21 GMT

    I agree with all that Martin Crowe says in this article except one. "Secondly, Dhoni has taken it too far in the way ... Is Dhoni too, like Anderson, becoming a law unto himself? Talk about living in glass houses." Surprised that Crowe has not a word to speak about Boon's verdict in the aftermath what has been judged by someone else as virtually a non-issue in the light of lack of independent evidence. Is it wrong to call a spade a spade, even if it is how one sees a showel? How is Crowe so ready to jump to conclusion that Dhoni is overdoing it? Just because there is a lack of evidence from third parties, does it mean Dhoni cannot be right? He MAY be right but there may be complete lack of evidence. Facts are independent of proofs. I am not saying Dhoni IS right. Just that Crowe needs to be more balanced and accept Dhoni might have a point. The past records of Anderson and Dhoni, will indicate who has infringed the rules more frequently. Not conclusive but probably who may be cleaner.

  • jaya on August 5, 2014, 13:31 GMT

    Ian chappel,M.Crowe and now Strauss have spoken loudly that Aswin should be have been includedd in the 3rd test itself.has it reached the Indian team selectors and Dhoni?Straus stresses the point that India cannot win without 5 bowlers and i am of the same opinion.Better late then never.

  • kayan on August 4, 2014, 20:18 GMT

    Please find a new spinner possibly a leggie who can zip it through the wrists (not just roller). Neither Jadeja nor Ashwin can lead our spin attack. Having said that, living at the moment, Ashwin should be given a try just to feel better or to make english feel different.

  • John on August 4, 2014, 19:39 GMT

    There are many reasons I can think of not opting for R Aswin in these 3 tests: 1. Ashwin got a long rope with selectors. First you need to test those with shorter ropes such as Binny and Pankaj. 2. Ashwin is a slow starter and needs pitch suitable for his bowling. It cant be flat, it cant be green and it cant be the one that lacks bounce. 3. Dhoni is more of a "i will give you what you want but deliver what I want' type of captain. Ashwin has failed many times in the past (esp. at Mumbai a rank turning pitch in 2011). 4. Ashwin is not yet a spinner of world class like Ajmal or Murali or even Bhajji as yet. He is more of an Indian spinner suited to Indian conditions. 5. Ashwin's control of the ball is questionable. Many times he delivers loose balls and wides with errand lines and length. 6. Ashwin needs to be tougher mentally for overseas conditions. I doubt he is yet.

  • GM on August 4, 2014, 15:54 GMT

    Mr Crowe, MS Dhoni is likely to be an enthusiastic advocate of Ashwin being a part of the same franchise. However the fact that he not playing him suggests a lack of confidence in his wicket taking ability.A cursory glance at his away record suggests this lack of confidence is justified. Perhaps India s better off selecting a spinner who can actually turn the ball even if it means a four ball now and then a la Moeen

  • S on August 4, 2014, 14:37 GMT

    It may be worth trying Ashwin here since India has really run out of options with one bowler injured (Sharma) and another one limping (Kumar) and yet another bowler with 5 wickets at 70+ average so far (Shami).

    However, keep in mind that even when Ashwin bowled against England IN INDIA, he was not that big a success - 14 wickets in 4 matches at nearly 53 runs per wicket. Figures like 1 for 111, 2 for 145 and 3 for 183 are more likely indicative of tired batsmen gifting their wickets rather than the bowler's abilities.

    Ashwin's only decent figures against England are 3 for 80 in his very first match against them. Then there's 2 for 31 (when England were chasing a target of 41 runs).

    So, I think Ashwin should be brought into the team but one should not have very high hopes for him to perform well.

  • Android on August 4, 2014, 14:16 GMT

    Ashwin is an over-rated bowler. He needs favorable conditions to be successful. I haven't played cricket at the highest level, but I do have an instinct which is usually correct. I don't see Ashwin making any sort of impact. Hope he proves me wrong if he is selected!

  • vas on August 4, 2014, 12:11 GMT

    If you select the right team, play hard and then winning or losing does not matter. But if you don't select the right team then you will have to answer your critics. Dhoni's selection of players at the moment is very puzzling. If you leave the best all rounder and the best mystery spinner in India on the bench, you are only reducing your chances of winning.

  • Shyam on August 4, 2014, 8:04 GMT

    Spot on Mr. Crowe! The same case with Aaron. India has got very few "genuinely quick" bowlers and he too is warming the bench. Let him get a taste of a spicy wicket and let him fail even if he does. He is a much better investment for the future of India

  • nachami on August 4, 2014, 7:01 GMT

    Dhoni dropped Ashwin after one failure in South Africa and brought Jadeja in a spin friendly track where Jadeja took wickets. Dhoni will NEVER PICK ASHWIN in England as Ashwin is likely to take wicket. If Dhoni is fair, why he DID NOT DROP JADEJA AFTER HIS MISERABLE PERFORMANCE IN FIRST TEST MATCH IN ENGLAND and pick Ashwin.. He had done that to Ashwin in South Africa. Dhoni will support Jadeja for ever. Good luck Dhoni and Jadeja.

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