What explains the decision to keep Ravichandran Ashwin out of the Test team in England ?
One of India’s best and most successful bowlers in Test matches, Ravichandran Ashwin was kept out of four consecutive Tests in England, confounding both fans and critics
The exclusion of India’s number one spin bowler and all-rounder Ravichandran Ashwin from the first four tests in England surprised cricket fans and critics alike.
Ashwin is ranked second in the latest world ranking for bowlers. He is also ranked at number 4 among all-rounders. It is a rare honour to be among the top five in the ranking for bowlers as well as all-rounders. He has taken 413 test wickets and has scored five centuries.
He has been a determined fighter in difficult conditions. His grit was well in evidence in India’s last tour of Australia when though in poor health, he put up a match-changing performance. His recent performance in county cricket was good too. He puts to good use his analytical abilities to improvise on the field. He put in a lot of effort to improve his batting as well and the results have been evident. Although batting at number 8 towards the tail end, he has been making useful contributions with the bat.
When such a player in good form is excluded at a stretch for four Test matches, questions are bound to be raised. Sometimes there are factors specific to a ground requiring such decisions. But four matches in a row?
Shashi Tharoor tweeted when he heard of his exclusion in the fourth Test match—I can’t believe they left out Ashwin again on a ground helpful to spinners. This team is unbelievable. You pick your best five bowlers. Ashwin has to be the first or second name.”
Former England captain Michael Vaughan called Ashwin’s exclusion the greatest non-selection of the series so far. Mark Waugh said this makes you wonder if the Indian think-tank has any clue. V.V.S. Laxman, as elegant a commentator now as he was a cricketer in his times, voiced the feelings of countless cricket lovers when he stated that he could not find any reasoning behind this exclusion for four tests. His exclusion is explained not by reason but by lack of reason, by a sense of the captain or the coach or both being stubborn and obstinate or about a bias.
Here is an old malady of Indian cricket re-asserting itself. Some persons become too powerful. Power brings arrogance. Wrong decisions taken in such conditions cannot be corrected early enough. Serious mistakes get prolonged.
A highly promising player can get frustrated in his peak years. As arrogance increases, there is less transparency and reason. In such conditions team spirit suffers. The joy which cricket brings to so many people is eroded when there is a strong sense of injustice and bias in important decisions.
Let us also not make this an issue of Ashwin vs. Jadeja. Jadeja too is a great player, a great trier, a very spirited as well as talented player. In fact, it has been a joy to watch them both playing together. Let us not make this a case of Ashwin versus anyone. Our case here is simply that such a great player as Ashwin cannot be made to sit out in all the matches.
Even in the happy situation where several equally good players are vying to find a place in the team, we would still be happy if Ashwin had played at least two of the four matches, providing a chance to others in the two other matches. But excluding him in all four matches is terrible injustice.
The captaincy of Virat Kohli should not be taken for granted. He has been a great batsman, but not always a great captain. In this series and in the earlier world championship match against New Zealand, the Indian team played below their potential. In fact, India has a richness of cricketing talent and it is the responsibility of leadership to make the best use of this talent.
The Indian team playing under Rahane during the latest Australian tour (following Kohli’s early return to India for personal reasons) performed very well in Australia. There were more inspirational performances, the team spirit was more in evidence, as was grit to emerge from difficult conditions. Kohli should stop being stubborn and be more responsive to well-intentioned and well-reasoned criticism. He should be more of a teamman, devote more time and effort to making the best use of the great cricketing talent flourishing in India, waste less time in modeling and promoting commerce.
Other cricketing countries have found it easier to change captains on their performance. But our tendency to hero worship and build a cult makes it more difficult to be rational. Kohli or any other captain should not be allowed to take his position for granted, in the interests of Indian cricket.
(The writer is a senior journalist and author. Views are personal)