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‘This team will be our template’ – Should India ditch the template for R Ashwin?

by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

After a damp squib on the final day of a closely fought Test match, India, who were “on top of the game” according to skipper Virat Kohli, have some selection questions to ponder over.

India’s bowling combination has often been the subject of debates on overseas tours and after controversially sitting Ravichandran Ashwin out at Trent Bridge, it seems like India are prepared to stick by the “template” they used in the first Test.

“Most likely it will be a template going ahead in the series,” Kohli said at the presentation ceremony after the Test match, hinting that India would prefer to play four seamers and just the lone spinner.

“But we’ve always been adaptable as well,” Kohli added. “The conditions and the pace on the wicket needs to be seen, but this team will be our template.”

India have rarely been afforded the luxury to play four quicks, primarily because hardly any of their quick bowling options in this format currently are decent with the bat. With Ishant Sharma missing the first Test with an injury, India brought in Shardul Thakur, comparatively a better batsman, into the XI.

The presence of four quicks also meant the spinner had to bat at No.7 and the choice between Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin was fairly straightforward – Ashwin averages 20.25 with the bat in Tests since 2019 while Jadeja averages 53.08. The bowling averages aren’t too different to warrant India playing Ashwin ahead of the left-arm spinner.

It can be argued that Jadeja’s batting abilities facilitated his inclusion in the side ahead of a proper batsman. England played no spinners in the first Test on a proper fast bowler’s wicket and India used Jadeja for just 16 of the 150-plus overs they bowled, including just three in the first innings.

If Ishant does return, the batting strength of the bowling group will be further hit, and there’s little chance of Ashwin edging Jadeja to the XI. The off-spinner has put behind his troubles in SENA countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia), where the pitches are conducive to the quick bowlers, with impressive returns since 2018.

Prior to 2018, Ashwin averaged 56.58 in SENA countries with a strike-rate of 104.2. Since 2018, though, the average has shot down to 28.23 with a strike-rate of 68.5. He is also in good form with the ball, having snared 6-27 for Surrey against Somerset in the lone County game he appeared for after the World Test Championship final.

If India do intend to stick to the template from the first Test, it will be difficult for Ashwin to get game time ahead of Jadeja. In the WTC Final, India went in with both spinners and they combined to bowl just over 30 overs. Ashwin, though, was the more impressive of the two, taking four wickets, including the only two to fall for the Blackcaps in the second innings.

England’s batting line-up, which has just one left-hander in the top seven further affects Ashwin’s selection. Since 2018, Ashwin averages 15,7 against left-handers and 28.1 against right-handers. Unless India play two spinners in tandem, which most pitches in England don’t encourage, it is difficult to make a case for Ashwin, especially given how well the fast bowling unit has worked.

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