ICC World Cup 2023: from class of 2011, Ashwin ready for final bow
A constant desire to innovate his craft yields dividends for the veteran off-spinner
It was a case of much ado about nothing. As the cricket media waited with bated breath throughout Thursday for closure on who could be the replacement for an injured Axar Patel in India's final 15 for the ICC World Cup 2023, Ravichandran Ashwin landed with the rest of the Indian team in Guwahati for a warm-up game.
Most felt his selection was a foregone conclusion, while a few insiders thought it was not so. There was a buzz that given the length of the tournament under Indian conditions, it would be a case of both Ashwin and Patel making the cut, with seaming allrounder Shardul Thakur making way. The wisdom of having two allrounders with similar skill sets in the Asia Cup, especially with Hardik Pandya bowling at full steam now, was always questionable.
In the end, the team management has given in to the popular choice, though one has to feel sorry for Patel. This is the second time the axe has fallen on him at the last minute, with Thakur coming in to replace him for the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE too.
It was nothing but course correction that must have finally convinced Rahul Dravid & co. on the virtues of having a genuine off-spinner — and the best available one — on board.
Incidentally, a cryptic Instagram post by Patel after being dropped went viral before he deleted it. It read: ‘’Should have taken science instead of commerce and hired better PR,’’ with a broken heart emoji. That set social media talking about whether his injury was as serious as it was being made out to be, to make way for Ashwin.
The frustration will remind one of Ambati Rayudu’s ‘3D’ comment ahead of the 2019 World Cup in reference to Vijay Shankar, after he was ignored in view of Shankar’s supposed all-round abilities.
At 37, this World Cup will certainly be Ashwin's last hurrah in white ball cricket, as he and Virat Kohli are the two only surviving members of the 'class of 2011' which won the trophy under Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It’s a testimony to his longevity and will to innovate and grow as a performer that he is still on the radar in all forms of cricket.
Having established himself as the biggest matchwinner for India since Anil Kumble, Ashwin could have chosen to stick to red-ball cricket and increased viewership for his popular YouTube channel. However, one remembers that soon after enduring his time in the dugout for the World Test Championship final against Australia last June, Ashwin returned to Chennai and hit the ground running in the local Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) under sweltering conditions.
The hunger is never in doubt as, soon after being recalled to the ODI side against Australia barely 10 days ago, he was at the nets for some late-night batting practice after the first match. If the first two games were a trial of sorts, Ashwin showed he was ready with his bag of tricks — the two carom ball deliveries which flummoxed David Warner (batting right-handed to counter Ashwin) and Marnus Labuschagne in Indore had cricket watchers swooning and writers going on overdrive.
There was enough to read between the lines when Rohit said ahead of the third and inconsequential one-dayer: ‘’He (Ashwin) has got the class, he has got the experience of playing the sport, and handling the pressure. It’s just that he hasn’t played ODIs in the last one year or so, but you can’t take away the class and the experience that the individual has.’’
Which is why it didn't take much imagination to see that Ashwin would be the chosen one on Thursday. It’s just the smokescreen set up to usher him in that leaves one wondering!