Does Ashwin deserve to be dropped from the Test eleven?

In Team India’s dominating 318-run victory against the West Indies in the first Test of the ongoing series, one little point was quietly forgotten – the exclusion of Ravichandran Ashwin from the eleven in place of left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja.

Ashwin has been India’s lead spinner for a while and one of the most successful spin bowlers of the modern era. His stats speak for themselves – 342 wickets in 65 Tests at a terrific average of 25.43 with 26 five-wicket hauls.

What’s even more interesting is that the West Indies is Ashwin’s favorite opposition. The West Indies have historically struggled against good spin bowling and Ashwin has always got their number, taking 60 wickets in 11 Tests at an average of 21.85 with 4 five-wicket hauls. In fact, when India visited the West Indies for a 4-match Test series in 2016, Ashwin put up a brilliant show: taking 17 wickets in the 4 matches at 23.17 with 2 five-wicket hauls.

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One would think that with numbers like these Ashwin walk into any Test side with ease. But one of the things that has gone against Ashwin is his poor record outside Asia – 65 wickets in 20 Tests at a poor average of 38.09 with just 2 five-wicket hauls, both of those have come against the West Indies.

This must have been one of the major considerations of the team management while dropping Ashwin from the eleven. However, Ashwin has been doing well outside Asia in recent times. During India’s long run of overseas tour in 2018, Ashwin finished with 24 wickets in 7 Tests at a good average of 30.16. While the fast bowlers did the bulk of the damage, Ashwin did a fantastic job; holding one end up and bowling tight channels.

His average, in fact, is the best since the start of 2016 among spinners who have ten or more wickets in South Africa, England and Australia.

So why was Ashwin not given a chance then? Perhaps because Ravindra Jadeja has developed into a more useful all-round option? Jadeja has improved his batting skills significantly – his gritty 58 on a tough pitch in the first Test against the West Indies was further testimony to that – and has been bowling well too. Ashwin has talent with the bat too but in the past few years he has been guilty of playing reckless shots and giving away his wicket.

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In fact, Ashwin and Jadeja have been neck-and- neck as bowlers in the recent past. Since the start of 2016, Ashwin has grabbed 149 wickets in 29 Tests at an average of 25.74 with 8 five-wicket hauls and 3 ten-wicket match hauls. Jadeja, meanwhile, in the same period, has 123 wickets in 25 Tests at an average of 24.31 with 5 five-wicket hauls and 1 ten-wicket match haul.

Clearly, the competition between the two spinners is intense and Jadeja, because of his superior batting and fielding, is ahead at the moment.

What does the future hold for Ravi Ashwin?

The off-spinner must bide his time and wait for the home Tests against South Africa and Bangladesh in September-November. Ashwin’s a beast in home conditions and a great performance there might turn things around for him again. Especially as the tour to New Zealand in early 2020 beckons, where he might have a significant role.

Now we will have to wait and see what new twists and turns this Ashwin-Jadeja rivalry takes shape in the days to come and who emerges stronger from that.

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