Has Ravichandran Ashwin become redundant in overseas Tests?
India skipper Virat Kohli has not called on R Ashwin in 2019. © AFP

Not too long ago Ravichandran Ashwin was breaking records for fun. He was India‘s premier bowler whose consistency saw him surge to the top of the rankings in Test cricket.

No wonder, he was India’s first-choice spinner in Test cricket – home and away. Add to that his ability with the bat, and Ashwin became indispensable.

Fast forward to 2019 and the offspinner will return from the tour of West Indies without playing a single Test in the ongoing two-match series. Since India began their overseas tours in January 2018 after a bumper home season, this will be the first time that Ashwin will return home without playing a single Test.

He last represented the country in early December 2018. Naturally, the question arises: What has changed?

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There’s a combination of reasons that have steadily contributed towards India captain Virat Kohli losing faith in Ashwin as his go-to spinner in overseas conditions. Firstly, the emergence of an alternative (read Kuldeep Yadav), the resurgence of allrounder Ravindra Jadeja and Ashwin’s fitness concerns.

The big question that thus pops-up is – has Ashwin become redundant in overseas Tests?

Not that Ashwin has done anything wrong. He had a decent run in seven overseas Tests he played in 2018 with 24 wickets at 30.16. But his fitness ditched him twice during the England tour in August-September and then in Australia later in 2018.

India spinners Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin
Ravindra Jadeja (left) and Ravichandran Ashwin (AFP Photo)

A half-fit Ashwin missed the fifth and final Test in England. And then an overused Ashwin broke down and missed three Tests in Australia after having delivered, tirelessly, 86.5 overs for six wickets in India’s win in the series opener.

In his absence, Jadeja was given a chance. In two Tests in Australia, the allrounder scored 90 runs and scalped seven wickets to justify his selection.

(READ: Shastri explains why India chose Jadeja over Ashwin for Windies Tests)

Ashwin has already been phased out of India’s limited-overs setup. So after the end of Australia tour earlier this year, he had to wait almost seven months to get another shot at playing international cricket with India busy with their world cup preparations.

Jadeja, meanwhile, made merry throughout that period as he forced his way into the World Cup squad. So when the time arrived for the red-ball cricket, Ashwin’s formidable record in the West Indies – a batting average of 58.75 with two centuries and 17 wickets – should have meant that he would be the first name on the team sheet.

READ: Gavaskar “astonished” at Ashwin’s omission in Antigua

But Kohli likes to live in the present. Ashwin was ignored for the first Test as India went on to win by 318 runs and was snubbed for the second match as well.

There hasn’t been an official word on why Jadeja got the nod ahead of the 32-year-old who boasts of an excellent record in Caribbean conditions. Team combination could be a big factor behind the Ashwin’s absence from the playing XI. With no Hardik Pandya, team India lacks a quality all-rounder. Jadeja fills that slot.

And Ashwin is getting injured too many times for Kohli’s liking.

A year ago, Ashwin was almost untouchable while Jadeja’s international career was hanging by a thread. But then again, Jadeja’s comeback is one-off in recent times and there aren’t many in Indian cricket who have successfully survived the transition phases.

While Ashwin is slipping away, Jadeja continues to make his case. With India coach Ravi Shastri terming Kuldeep as India’s lead spinner not long back, there’s a possibility Ashwin could soon find himself out of the squad altogether when India travel overseas, where they have a practice of flying with two spinners.