@Yas_Wisden 3 minute read
Most of the XI picks itself. KS Bharat is a near certainty to keep wicket having done so throughout the recent series against Australia, while Ajinkya Rahane is all but set to return to the middle order in the absence of KL Rahul. Jasprit Bumrah’s injury means that a frontline seam attack of Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav is likely; there is a faint possibility that Indian domestic powerhouse Jaydev Unakdat features, but it is no more than that.
The real question mark is over the identity of the side’s No. 8 – will India it be Ravichandran Ashwin or Shardul Thakur?
On the surface, it’s almost a preposterous comparison. Ashwin is arguably the spinner of his generation. With 473 Test wickets at less than 24, Ashwin is the ninth leading Test wicket-taker of all time. Even recently, Ashwin is the leading India wicket-taker in the current World Test Championship cycle while Shardul is a plucky all-rounder whose India appearances are sporadic at best.
Ashwin’s record in England is excellent, too. In seven Tests, he averages less than 30. His ‘problem’ is the immovability of Ravindra Jadeja. Jadeja’s batting makes him a lock in the XI at six and despite his inferior record with the ball in England, means that he is deployed as their side’s lead spinner.
Ashwin has played in just one of India’s last seven Tests in England, incidentally the previous World Test Championship final against New Zealand at the Ageas Bowl where he took 4-45 across the game. Shardul, meanwhile, was a surprise package in India’s 2021 tour of England, taking four wickets in what would have been an India win at Trent Bridge had it not been for the rain, before playing a leading role with the bat in their win at the Kia Oval. He fared less well in the 2022 Edgbaston Test, conceding 1-113 at more than a run a ball across the match.
Spinners have enjoyed reasonable success at the Kia Oval in recent years although in recent County Championship games at the venue, in what has been an unusually damp start to the English summer, slow bowlers have played a peripheral role at best.
There is an argument that India should effectively ignore Jadeja’s spin when it comes to selection. Jadeja’s batting and position in the top six merits selection on its own, and in English conditions where there is less assistance off the pitch for spinners than there is in India and against a side like Australia who have four left-handers in their top seven, there is a need for a spinner like Ashwin as well as Jadeja in the XI. For what it’s worth, Ashwin has a formidable recent record against Australia, averaging 17.28 in the recent series in India, and 28.83 in the famous 2020-21 win Down Under.
If you gave Australia the choice of who they’d least like to face in a marquee final, they’d surely point to Ashwin but he’s an option India have recently been reluctant to use in English conditions.