How did Ashwin and Jadeja fare at the 2017 Champions Trophy?
Both R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja struggled to pick up wickets and, though they did contribute to choking South Africa in the crunch group-stage match, were on the whole expensive. When Pakistan's top order attacked them in the final, they had no answer and conceded 137 runs in 18 overs.
So were they poor? It should be noted that spinners did not fare well in the tournament. They accounted for just 21.18% of the wickets taken. But still, India were expecting more from Jadeja and Ashwin, who are the world's top two bowlers in Tests according to the ICC rankings, and have been key in previous global one-day tournaments.
Are they Test specialists?
Both Ashwin and Jadeja first gained prominence as limited-overs bowlers, gaining attention for their performances in the Indian Premier League. Ashwin had to wait a year and a half between his ODI and Test debuts, while Jadeja, considered a short-format specialist, waited almost four years from his ODI debut for a Test call-up - he was first drafted into the side as an allrounder batting at No.6.
However, since the last Champions Trophy in 2013, both Ashwin and Jadeja have worked hard at becoming better bowlers in Tests. Their efforts have paid off, but the flip side is that their stocks in ODI cricket have fallen. After the Champions Trophy 2013, Ashwin was the No.8 ranked ODI bowler in the world, while Jadeja was No.3 and rose to No.1 later in the year. As they have climbed the Test rankings, they have descended to No. 30 and 31 in the ODI rankings. A chief reason for this that they have missed many ODI matches while being rested ahead of important Test series.
So were they underprepared for the Champions Trophy?
Between the 2015 World Cup and the 2017 Champions Trophy, Ashwin played just nine ODIs, while Jadeja played 10. These figures are in stark contrast to the periods between previous ICC events. Between the 2011 World Cup and the 2013 Champions Trophy, both played 30 or more one-day games. And they were key for India in the 2013 title win, with Jadeja topping the wicket charts and conceding just 3.75 per over through the tournament and Ashwin averaging 22.62.
Then, between that tournament and the 2015 World Cup, Ashwin played 35 games and Jadeja 41, and they were again successful in the big event, in particular Ashwin, who took 13 wickets in 8 matches. The 2015 World Cup-2017 Champions Trophy period saw both Jadeja's and Ashwin's economy rates rise, though this was partly because economy-rates rose in general during that period. Jadeja, meanwhile, has not taken a three-wicket haul in ODIs since October 2014.
So, should India replace Ashwin and Jadeja in ODIs?
It would be quite harsh to drop Ashwin and Jadeja from the ODI squad now, since they have barely played any games in the past two years. India's most successful spinners since the 2015 World Cup are Axar Patel and Amit Mishra. Axar has played more games than Ashwin and Jadeja, and while Mishra has played less, it is perhaps too small a sample set to base decisions on.
Besides, it may be discouraging for Ashwin and Jadeja to be left out of the one-day team when it is possibly because of their focus on Test cricket, which benefits the team, that their limited-overs form has suffered. In the two years leading up to the 2019 World Cup, it is important India give enough games to all their spinners to determine who are most valuable to the side.
Do India need a wristspinner in limited-overs cricket?
Since the 2015 World Cup, the three most successful spinners in ODIs have been wristspinners. England's Adil Rashid, Afghanistan's Rashid Khan and South Africa's Imran Tahir have all taken 60-plus wickets in this period. The most successful fingerspinner in that time has been New Zealand's Mitchell Santner, who has taken 44 wickets at an average of 33.77 and conceded runs at an economy rate of 4.99. With pitches offering little turn in ODIs, India may need to consider going with a wristspinner who can generate turn and bounce, irrespective of the nature of the surface.