NEW DELHI: A couple of days back, Ravichandran Ashwin posted pictures on social media in which he was seen doing shadow batting. In one, he was playing the cover drive and in the other, he could be seen practising leaving the deliveries.
Nothing was out of place, only that he was practising left-handed and the accompanying tweet read “The desire to ignite something different everyday never burns out.”
The desire to ignite something different every day never burns out. 🤜 🔥🔥🤩 https://t.co/6U9s7LZpP6
— Mask up and take your vaccine🙏🙏🇮🇳 (@ashwinravi99) 1630000367000
It was perhaps his way of telling the world that maybe “left” would have been the “right choice”.
On Thursday, Indian skipper Virat Kohli once again announced at the toss that India’s fourth highest wicket-taker in Test cricket would not be among the five best bowlers who would be playing the Oval Test against England.
Ravindra Jadeja, with two wickets from last three Tests, was persisted with for his left-handed willow wielding.
“It’s something that we thought is a good match-up for Jadeja as well, because mostly all our seamers bowl over the wicket. It’s a nice little spot for the left-handers as well.
“I think according to the match-ups, it fits perfectly for our team – plus the balance he is giving us with the bat as well currently,” explained Kohli.
But were observers of the game convinced?
“The non selection of ashwinravi99 has to be greatest NON selection we have ever witnessed across 4 Tests in the UK !!! 413 Test wickets & 5 Test 100s !!!! Madness,” former England captain Michael Vaughan was aghast on Twitter.
One can discount Vaughan, whose comments on Indian cricket can be way off the mark, but even the normally reticent and elegant Mark Waugh was sharp.
“Makes you wonder if the Indian think tank have any clue,” ‘Junior’ replied on Vaughan’s comments section.
@MichaelVaughan @ashwinravi99 Makes you wonder if the Indian think tank have any clue.#unfathomable
— Mark Waugh (@juniorwaugh349) 1630575707000
A former India cricketer, who watched Kohli’s answer to Mike Atherton on Ashwin’s exclusion at the toss, was trying to process what exactly he heard.
“Did he just say that Ravindra Jadeja is a better bet than Ravichandran Ashwin against four left-handers? He spoke about the spot that will be created by his fast bowlers over the wicket. Well fair enough.
“But just have a look at the lines that Jadeja is bowling and you are confident that you can give Jaddu enough runs to use those cracks on the fourth or fifth day?” he had a counter question when PTI contacted him.
Sunil Gavaskar, who had advocated for inclusion of an extra batsman on the day, however said that once the team is announced, he would like to back it and hold his opinions till the result is out.
It is very difficult to predict how this Test will pan out, India might end up winning it but one thing that has come out is skipper Kohli’s thought process, which is conviction for his backers but stubborn bordering on being obstinate to his baiters.
There is a saying in Indian cricket, if you continuously pester an irritated Virat Kohli with the same question, he is likely to dead bat you with more “gusto”.
Otherwise, it is difficult to explain how on a track which is traditionally known to favour slow bowlers, a man who had a six-for in a county game not too long back can be overlooked again and again.
Worse, Ashwin is not being left because he is an inferior spinner compared to Jadeja.
But yes, Ashwin is definitely paying the price for a brittle middle-order that is performing well below expectations.
Jadeja the batsman, with 133 runs in his kitty this series, has been pressed into action because Ajinkya Rahane has totalled 95 in three Tests and the skipper is yet to get to a hundred in the four Test matches in UK (including World Test Championship final) this season.
He hasn’t got a hundred since November 2019, in a two-day Pink Test against Bangladesh.
Add Cheteshwar Pujara’s dry run before the Leeds second innings, it cuts an even more sorry picture.
Is Ashwin paying the price for being non-conformist?
Ravichandran Ashwin is an expressive man and is very aware about the words he picks and chooses while airing his views on any particular subject.
It will be known in due course of time as to how he took his omission at a time when he was only five wickets away from becoming India’s third highest wicket-taker in Test cricket behind Anil Kumble and Kapil Dev.
But there are murmurs about a few things.
Did Ashwin’s ‘Kutty Story’ (Small story) on his popular Tamil YouTube channel, where he always gives some cricketing nuggets and anecdotes of touring party, not go down well with certain sections?
The BCCI doesn’t like its players doing a lot of interactions when on tour.
He is an eloquent man and so is his skipper, who also likes conformists in his set-up. One can only hope that it’s not the case of contrarian views clashing.
More importantly Indian fans would pray that the pitch doesn’t crumble towards the end.
Because if that happens, the skipper would turn around to find that the man he wanted most is sitting wearing a blue jumper at the Oval balcony. It won’t make a pretty sight.