Ravichandran Ashwin    AFP
Ravichandran Ashwin’s last Test outing was against South Africa in the first Test at Johannesburg AFP


By Chetan Narula


London: Jul 24, 2014


Former Pakistan spin bowling legend Saqlain Mushtaq joined the chorus for the inclusion of off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin in the India’s playing XI against England for the third Test, starting at Southampton on Sunday.


“England had six left-handed batsmen in their eleven. Why aren’t they playing R Ashwin? Isn’t it an obvious choice if they really want to play five bowlers?,” asked Mushtaq.


“It is understandable that they didn’t want to play him at Lord’s. It was such a green-top wicket that you couldn’t differentiate between the pitch and the outfield on day one. The pitch eventually took some turn on days four and five. But nobody will play two spinners on such a track thinking that it will turn later. But why didn’t they play two spinners in the first Test at Nottingham on that flat track?” he said.


Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni had admitted that they “read the pitch wrong” at Trent Bridge and had also said that India will continue to play five bowlers depending on pitch and conditions. He did not bowl his ‘fifth bowler’ in Stuart Binny at all in the second innings at Lord’s and after the victory when the question was put to him, Dhoni declined that two spinners were even in his frame of mind.


That might explain why Ashwin hasn’t played a single Test in the last eight months. His last Test outing was against South Africa in Johannesburg where he returned 0-108 in 42 overs (over two innings) in a drawn match.


Jadeja had come in afterwards and taken his career-best haul of 6-138 at Durban. He has since been a part of the Test playing eleven, featuring in both Tests in New Zealand and the first two on-tour here in England.


“At Lord’s they could have obviously played only one spinner, and Ravindra Jadeja was Dhoni’s choice, no doubt. It seems, he prefers Jadeja in the longer format, while Ashwin is the preferred spinner in one-day cricket. Amit Mishra is his preferred option in T20 cricket if you see recent results. Different formats have different bowlers, but then you have to consider that India want to play five bowlers,” said Mushtaq.


There have been lot of talks about English wickets drying up and the two Tests against Sri Lanka prior to this series produced such pitches. It will be a long shot that the green-top wicket seen at Lord’s will be replicated all through the remaining three Tests.


Asked how soon can India play two spinners then, Mushtaq said, “In my county cricket experience, we always played two spinners, irrespective of day one conditions. Even if seamers ruled on the first two days, the wickets will obviously dry out by days three and four. Whether the opposition has more left-handers or more right-handers, both spinners benefit.


“What helped was the fact that our lower-order batsmen were all very good. So they would add 35-40 runs easily and it helped in picking two spinners then,” the legendary spinner said. “Jadeja is an okay batsman. But Ashwin has two Test hundreds to his name. So you can play two spinners as it will be a better all-round bowling attack. I think it is an obvious call for Dhoni,” he said.


Mushtaq said England’s bowling woes will continue until they find someone to replace off-spinner Graeme Swann, who retired last year. “England are missing Graeme Swann like nobody else. In the first two Tests, it was plain obvious that James Anderson and Stuart Broad did not have enough support from the rest of the bowlers. And I am very impressed by Moeen Ali who performed that role adequately at Lord’s. But on flatter-wickets, they will struggle against Indian batsmen who can play spin well,” he said.


England have been hunting for a replacement with left-arm spinner Simon Kerrigan hopping in and out of the squad, and Mushtaq agreed that it was an ongoing process.


“Of course you cannot find a replacement overnight. Australia had Shane Warne and they had also struggled to replace him. Every nation has quality spinners in domestic circles. But understanding spin and bowling spin after understanding its nuances are two different things. It takes time,” Mushtaq signed off.


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