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England v India

The Ashwin-Jadeja dilemma that isn’t really one at all

Ashwin Jadeja
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 3 minute read

With India’s series opener against England less than ten days away, there’s support on each side of the Ravichandran Ashwin versus Ravindra Jadeja debate for India’s lead spinner. However, it doesn’t really have to be one over another, writes Aadya Sharma.

Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, two powerhouses of India’s Test team, have been operating in unison since 2011, but have only played seven abroad Tests together. When India tours, it’s either one or the other who is tasked with leading the spin charge, unless the conditions absolutely dictate a line-up that will require both finger spinners to deliver together.

So, with India’s five-Test long series in England set to begin soon, questions have started to emerge out of discussions around India’s bowling composition. Who, then, would spearhead their spin attack, in conditions historically averse to spin bowling?

Not too long ago, R Ashwin was widely considered to be just a home giant, with little efficacy on non-turning pitches away from home. The disparity is evident, especially given his stature on Indian pitches  – outside Asia, the only five-wicket hauls he’s taken are two in the Caribbean five years ago.

However, his recent evolution has involved a marked shift in performance on tours abroad. Among all Test spinners in overseas games since 2015, R Ashwin has the second-best bowling average – 25.64 (at least 10 innings), and the third-best strike-rate (54.44). He has been incisive on recent tours to England and Australia, even though injuries limited his overall impact. The improvement of late has given India a chance to have him fulfil more than just a holding role, one he played in the past with other attacking spinners such as Kuldeep Yadav being used as wicket-taking weapons.

The other option, R Jadeja, has poorer figures (average 42.52, strike-rate 87.6) on tours abroad since 2010, consistently falling short against teams heavily stacked with left-handed batsmen. In terms of operation, Jadeja is different from Ashwin, exploiting rough patches on tracks as opposed to using more subtleties in the air.

However, Jadeja’s place in the team isn’t defined by his bowling alone, and that’s where the Ashwin-Jadeja dilemma collapses – it’s not really one versus another, but a combination of both that will serve India best.

Jadeja’s batting and bowling average differential of 11.03 is the second-best of any player since 2000 (at least 1,000 runs and 150 wickets). Down the order, his evolution has been unmatched – since the start of 2016, his average of 39.04 is the second-best (min. 10 innings) batting at No.8 to 11, and his tally of nine fifties is the most by anyone. His come-from-behind assaults have amped up over the last few years abroad, such as the unbeaten 86 he scored in the fifth Test of the 2018 England tour, defying a full-strength attack that would constitute most of the same members India will face this time around.

In such a scenario, keeping Jadeja at No.7 adds much-needed solidity and fluency to India’s lower order, and in tough English conditions, his late contributions could have a significant bearing on the final score. His spin bowling abroad might not be as effective as it is at home, but it is a brilliant bonus to have nonetheless, especially since you don’t need to play a specialist batsman (he averages 50.56 since 2018). And we’re not even mentioning his fielding here.

That gives R Ashwin the other spot, similar to the structure followed in the World Test Championship final. His batting form has shown signs of drastic improvement, while he’s been in red-hot form with the ball, running through Somerset on his debut for Surrey in the County Championship.

Keeping both spinners still gives India the space to field three specialist quicks. And, with no seam-bowling all-rounders in the mix, keeping both balances the line-up, especially since the other all-round options and Jadeja-Ashwin’s immediate competitors – Washington Sundar and Axar Patel – are still in the early stages of their Test careers.

Even if India decide to go down another route, there is little actual debate to be had. Should they require four quicks, Jadeja slots in at No.7 to take up the holding role. If an extra specialist bat is needed, pushing Rishabh Pant down to No.7, then Ashwin gets in as the superior spinner. It’s hard to think of a dilemma which would force a proper decision between the two.

As India attempt to win their first series in England since 2007, both Jadeja and Ashwin will have key roles to play, but one isn’t exclusive to the other, and their best chances lie in a unified effort from the two modern greats.

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