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T20 World Cup 2022

Why India must pick Ashwin in their T20 World Cup opener against Pakistan

Sarah Waris by Sarah Waris
@swaris16 5 minute read

India have have played off-spinner R Ashwin against teams that have more left-handers in the recent past, but he could be a crucial match-up against right-handers Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan against Pakistan, writes Sarah Waris.

R Ashwin has played five of 11 games since the start of the Asia Cup for India. His frequent omissions do not have to do with form but are instead based on the heavy reliance on data and match-ups that the camp utilises of late. Head coach Rahul Dravid has been vocal about juggling bowlers according to the batters on the crease, which was the reason why Axar Patel, arguably India’s most impressive bowler in recent times, bowled just one over in the third T20I against South Africa when two left-handers were batting, even as they put on a big stand.

Recently, Ashwin has only made the XI if the opposition team is laden with lefties, turning the ball away from the bat. He did not make the side for the twin games against Pakistan in the Asia Cup as a result but featured against Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. He did not play a single match against Australia but sent down his quota of overs in every game against South Africa.


The reverse is true for Yuzvendra Chahal, his direct competitor in the XI. The leg-spinner was selected for all games against Australia, a team that only had Matthew Wade as the left-hander in the batting unit, but had to sit out against South Africa.

Chahal was expensive in the two games against Pakistan in the Asia Cup. In the first, he conceded 0-32, and then gave away 1-43 in the next round. If the management’s recent tactic is to be believed, Chahal and not Ashwin will be the front-runner to play the T20 World Cup clash against the neighbours, but the latter could be more successful.

What works for Ashwin

Sport is not black or white. It is about flexibility and going against accepted thinking, making decisions on the go even if a player has been raised on received wisdom that says otherwise. Nothing explains why Pakistan’s successful opening pair Babar and Rizwan should struggle against off-spin – the right-handers should, by all logic, flourish against them, with their traditional cricketing excellence allowing them to take full toll of the ball turning into the bat. However, they do, and if India can tackle the weaknesses smartly, they will have the advantage.

Rizwan has a strike rate of 108.75 against off-spinners in T20Is, while his opening partner Babar strikes at 118.39 against them. More importantly, it is the dot ball percentage that stands out.

In all T20s, Rizwan strikes at 103.60 against off-spin, his lowest against all types of bowlers. Babar’s struggles too are evident from his strike rate of 119.45 against them. Rizwan’s average against off-spin is superior to Babar’s, but given his struggles to score quickly, this is not something to be feared.

In the recent T20I tri-series against New Zealand, the duo had their issues against Michael Bracewell, who finished with figures of 0-6 (one over), 2-11 and 2-14 in three games against Pakistan. In the second match, he came on to bowl the third over of the innings, a move that paid off, as he troubled the batters with low bounce and got them to play for the turn. His first scalp was Rizwan as he looked to break the shackles with a big hit, and then also dismissed Babar with a slider.

Bracewell dismissed Babar in the final as well, tempting the Pakistan skipper with a tossed-up delivery. He kept Rizwan quiet too, giving away six runs in the six balls he bowled to him, and even though Pakistan went on to win the tri-series, the frailties were evident.

India should take advantage of the flaw and combine it with Pakistan’s other drawback – their slow batting approach. Pakistan’s template up the order has been under the scanner, with Babar and Rizwan looking to occupy the crease and get big runs instead of quick runs. If Ashwin can bowl in the powerplay, as Bracewell did, it would slow down the run rate even further and add pressure on the middle order.

Against leg-spinners, both have a better strike rate, with Rizwan going at 133.3 against them. Chahal is also unlikely to bowl in powerplay overs because he is guilty of leaking runs, which can turn the tide against India from the very start. It further increases the value of Ashwin, who can also chip in with important runs down the order.

What is interesting is that Rizwan has faced off-spin in 25 of his 62 T20I innings, while Babar has played them in 34 innings of 87. It indicates that teams have not identified the opening pair’s real weakness, something even India are guilty of, as they benched Ashwin against them recently. With left-handers Fakhar Zaman and Mohammad Nawaz to follow, Ashwin should be first choice as both teams look to begin their campaign on a high.

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