The decision to leave out ace spinner Ravichandran Ashwin from India’s starting XI in the recent World Test Championship (WTC) final against Australia has raised several eyebrows. This article delves into the reasons behind this controversial decision and the reactions from cricket experts like Ricky Ponting, Sanjay Manjrekar, and Brad Haddin. Additionally, we will explore whether the experience of the previous WTC final played a part in India’s decision-making process.
Analyzing the Oval Track
The Nature of the Pitch
The Oval pitch is known for its dryness underneath the surface, which could have brought Ashwin into the game, especially considering Australia’s lineup featuring four left-handed batters in the top seven – Usman Khawaja, David Warner, Travis Head, and Alex Carey. Ricky Ponting, the former Australian captain, shared his thoughts on the matter, saying, “I saw the grass, yes there was grass, but the deeper I looked, it seemed dry to me.”
Sanjay Manjrekar’s Views
Echoing Ponting’s views, former India batter Sanjay Manjrekar expressed surprise at Ashwin’s omission and elaborated on the spinner’s success against Australia, both in Australia (2020-21) and India (2022-23), as well as his overall record overseas since 2018. He remarked, “It seems like they’re convinced this pitch is very seam-friendly because Ashwin of late in overseas matches has been pretty good.” Manjrekar also mentioned that the Oval has historically never been a seaming pitch.
The Potential of Ashwin
Sachin Tendulkar’s Opinion
Sachin Tendulkar, the legendary Indian cricketer, believes that highly skilled bowlers like Ashwin possess the ability to take pitches out of the equation. He emphasized the importance of bounce, zip, overhead conditions, and the shiny side of the ball in influencing a spinner’s performance, stating, “If they are able to get that drift, they can make the ball talk in the air without the pitch coming into play. So, The Oval is going to be a good venue for India.”
Brad Haddin’s Views
Former Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin also felt the absence of a fierce competitor like Ashwin in a contest as big as the WTC final could put “massive pressure” on India’s four-pronged pace attack. He opined, “You want a player, especially in a big event like this, who walks towards the fire. And Ashwin’s definitely one of those guys against Australia.”
The Influence of Bumrah’s Non-Availability
Jasprit Bumrah’s unavailability may have played a role in the team management’s decision to opt for four seamers and one spinner instead of a 3-2 attack. With Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami picking themselves and India seemingly intent on playing Shardul Thakur for the all-round depth he lends alongside Ravindra Jadeja, the choice came down to Umesh Yadav and Ashwin, with India ultimately selecting the former.
Thakur’s Previous Performance at The Oval
Shardul Thakur’s match-turning performance at The Oval in September 2021, where he scored twin half-centuries and took three wickets to help India secure a 157-run win against England, could have factored into the decision to include him in the starting XI.
The Previous WTC Final Experience
Ashwin’s Inclusion in the 2021 WTC Final
Ashwin was part of India’s XI when they played the WTC final in 2021 against New Zealand in Southampton. India fielded three seamers and two spinners, while New Zealand opted for four specialist seamers and an additional option in all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme. India lost the match in conditions favoring fast bowlers, and Ashwin did not feature in any of the four subsequent Tests against England later in the summer.
Did the 2021 Experience Influence the Decision?
Sanjay Manjrekar suggested that the previous WTC final experience might have played a part in India’s decision to exclude Ashwin. He said, “Maybe, but conditions were different. It was a venue where seam bowlers had to bowl. New Zealand had five seam options. I believe you have to look at the history of a certain venue and a pitch rather than how a pitch looks on day one.”
Ashwin’s Batting Depth
Apart from his bowling prowess, Ashwin also adds batting depth to the team. Manjrekar highlighted this aspect, stating, “Ashwin, for many reasons, would’ve been a good selection, plus he adds a bit of batting depth as well.”
Jadeja’s Role against Left-Handers
Manjrekar also pointed out that Ravindra Jadeja could still be effective against Australia’s left-handers, which might have influenced the team’s decision. He said, “Having said that, Jadeja against the left-handers isn’t too bad, maybe that is the reason why they felt we can still do it with one spinner.”
Public Opinion: Should India Have Picked Ashwin?
A poll conducted regarding whether India should have picked Ashwin for the WTC final garnered 15.9K votes, with the results split between those in favor and those against the decision.
In conclusion, Ravichandran Ashwin’s omission from India’s starting XI in the WTC final against Australia has generated mixed opinions among cricket experts and fans alike. While some believe that the decision was influenced by the previous WTC final experience and the nature of the Oval pitch, others argue that Ashwin’s potential to perform in various conditions and his success against Australia warranted his inclusion. Ultimately, only time will tell if India’s decision to exclude Ashwin was the right call.