Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023

Some time after the toss on the first morning of the fourth Test at The Oval, Prithi Narayanan posted a short video on her Twitter handle. In the video, her daughter was seen in the stadium stands, holding a monocular in her hands. She was trying to locate something on the ground, the accompanying caption read: “Looking for @ashwinravi99”.

It was an innocuous tweet of a wife of a famous player about her daughter’s playful activities. Or was it? Many saw the post as a comment on Ravichandran Ashwin’s continued absence in the playing XI. But it’s hard to say.

The timing was interesting, though. It was for the fourth Test in a row that Ashwin was not included in the playing XI – at the time when he was world No. 2 in Test bowler rankings and world No. 4 in Test all-rounder rankings. That Ashwin was getting a raw deal didn’t need to be highlighted by Prithi, it was all too clear.

Ashwin is a mirror image of Virat Kohli when it comes to his passion for success and the will to fight. He loves to go out, take wickets, score runs and win matches for his team. Keeping him in the dressing room is like not allowing a racehorse to run. Long durations on the bench breed frustration in every player, but they may affect someone like Ashwin a bit more than the others.

Also, Ashwin is extremely expressive and eloquent. A couple of weeks ago, Ashwin posted pictures on his Twitter account where he was seen batting left-handed. Was that a sign of simmering frustration caused by a prolonged wait to get a match? It could be, because the spinner who has played all the four matches happened to be Ravindra Jadeja, a left-hander.

Captain Kohli has preferred Jadeja for his batting abilities. Jadeja is definitely a better batter than Ashwin. The numbers speak up for him. In fact, on some occasions in this series, Jadeja looked a better batter than some of India’s main batters. In the fourth Test, he batted at No. 5, ahead of Rishabh Pant and Ajinkya Rahane. He has more runs than both of them in the series.

Jadeja is not only a brilliant all-rounder, he is also a compulsion for Kohli. India’s middle-order is going through a serious, lengthy bad patch and they don’t have a settled seam-allrounder (Shardul Thakur has shown promise, though). But their bowling attack is in brilliant form. So, they need to strengthen their batting to put up a good enough total on the board that allows the bowlers to work their magic.

Also, conditions in England leave very little space for spinners to have a major impact. It took four Tests to have a pitch that had some help for the spinners, that too on the last two days. Hence, Jadeja ahead of Ashwin.

To make space for Ashwin, the next option could have been dropping a pacer from the four-pronged attack that India have used in this series. But the World Test Championship final loss against New Zealand is still fresh in the memory.

In that match, India played with three pacers while the conditions demanded at least four. Opposition had five (if you count Colin de Grandhomme) in their eleven and we all know how things transpired. It was a costly lesson as captain Kohli lost his best chance of winning an ICC trophy. Ashwin bowled well in that match (two wickets in each innings). However, the team management clearly thought an extra pacer could have more impact on the match. And it’s not without logic.

In overcast conditions — well, it’s England, what else did you expect? — and on pitches with good grass cover (which this series has seen a lot), any captain would want relentless pace from both ends. But with only three pacers in the side, it becomes difficult for a captain to do that. Bowlers will either end up being over-used or under-used. And in these conditions, a spinner feels like a relief for the batters.

Also, with four pacers, a captain can keep his bowlers fresh and expect higher intensity during the latter stages of the Test. Like Jasprit Bumrah’s peach of a spell in the fourth innings of the fourth Test that hurried the England fall.

That’s probably the irony of being Ashwin. The best spinner in the country, the highest wicket-taking spinner in the last five years in the world (220 vs Nathan Lyon’s 188), a handy lower-order batter, a sharp reader of the game, a master in plotting dismissals but still not finding a place in the side.

A world No. 2 batter or pacer wouldn’t have spent four Tests on the bench. But here he is, whiling away his time, posting pictures on Twitter, telling stories on YouTube while waiting for his fortunes to change and an opportunity to come his way.

But what could be more ironical than the fact that Ashwin has been picked for the T20 World Cup — a format in which he hasn’t represented the country since July 2017 — two days before the fifth and final Test in which he may complete a fifer of a different kind — sitting out in five consecutive Tests.

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By tilu858

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