“Madness.” “I can’t believe it.” ” A weird one.”
What’s going on with India and Ravichandran Ashwin?
The off-spinner, second in the Test rankings and the fourth most successful bowler in India’s history, was left out yet again for the fourth Test against England at the Kia Oval.
The 34-year-old has 413 Test wickets – only 14 players have taken more – but has not featured once in the series.
This is a man who bagged 32 wickets at an average of 14.71 in India’s 3-1 demolition of England on home soil barely six months ago.
“I am staggered,” said former England captain Michael Vaughan on BBC Test Match Special.
“It has to be greatest non-selection we have ever witnessed across four Tests in the UK. It’s madness.”
Ex-England spinner Phil Tufnell said: “I can’t believe it. How can you have the world’s number two ranked bowler sitting up there with his shorts on having a cup of tea for four Test matches?
“He would get into any other Test side, in any conditions.”
Former India wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta said. “The Oval helps the spinners – Ravichandran Ashwin should play. Any which way, Ashwin should play.”
“Ashwin has that X-factor,” said former England batsman Mark Ramprakash, while ex-England batter Ebony Rainford-Brent described his non-selection as a “weird” decision.
Even the Australians had their say…
Why would India leave Ashwin out?
Maybe it is because India have an already long tail and Ashwin cannot bat?
Think again. He has five Test centuries, including one against England earlier this year. In fact, only two players in the England team – Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow – have scored more.
True, spinners are much more effective in Indian conditions than English, but Ashwin took 4-45 in the World Test Championship final against New Zealand in Southampton in June and has comfortably the best average – 28.08 – for a spinner outside Asia since the start of 2016.
Throw in the fact Ashwin took 6-27 at The Oval for Surrey in a County Championship match against Somerset last month and his omission is even more curious.
This ground has seen some famous spin-bowling performances down the years, be it Muttiah Muralitharan’s 9-65 against England in 1998 or Tufnell bowling Australia out for 104 to seal victory in 1997.
Recent history suggests the slower bowlers still enjoy the conditions.
“In five Tests played since 2015 at The Oval, seamers have taken 123 wickets at 31.07 with a strike-rate of a wicket every 60 balls,” said TMS statistician Andy Zaltzman. “But spinners have 50 wickets at an average of 29.01 and a strike-rate of 51.”
So could something else be going on?
“When a player of that quality, experience and know-how doesn’t make a team four Tests into a five-match series, you have to start thinking there may be an issue with personalities and clashes,” Vaughan said.
“It may just be that the captain and Ravichandran Ashwin don’t quite see eye to eye. It’s the only excuse and reason why.”
At the toss India skipper Virat Kohli said the four left-handers in England’s team are a good match-up for Ravindra Jadeja, the left-arm spinner India picked.
“Speaking to Virat Kohli at the toss, he probably wouldn’t have bowled Ashwin too much in the first innings. That’s his reason,” said former England bowler Isa Guha.
“India won at Lord’s with four seamers,” said Ramprakash. “They are trying to adapt to the conditions and have that relentless four-seamer attack.”
That means a choice between Jadeja and Ashwin as the fifth bowler. Given Jadeja was promoted to number five in the order as India collapsed on Thursday, it is clear whose batting Kohli prefers.
“Ashwin clearly has the wood over some of the England batsmen, having got them out in India,” said Ramprakash.
India have been in the country since June. If Ashwin leaves not having played a single Test against England, you suspect Joe Root and company will be delighted.
Your reaction on #bbccricket
Phil in Chester: Would Portugal leave out Ronaldo? Why do India leave out Ashwin.
Kier, Surrey: As a cricket fan I don’t get the no Ashwin thing. Did the Indian selectors not see him for Surrey this season? He was excellent and I thought he will cause England all sorts of problems. But as an England fan I’m glad he is sitting on the side.
Ian: Do you think India will loan us R Ashwin for the ashes? After all they are not using him!