India’s ongoing test cricket series against England has been marred by a major surprise—the exclusion of India’s number one spin bowler and recognized all-rounder Ravichandran Ashwin from the first four tests. Ashwin is ranked second in the latest world ranking for bowlers. He is also ranked at number 4 among all rounders. It is a rare honour to be among the top five in the ranking for bowlers as well as all rounders. He has taken 413 test wickets and scored five centuries.
Even these rankings and statistics, very impressive as these are, don’t do full justice to his talents and efforts. He has been seen to be a determined fighter in difficult conditions. His grit was well in evidence in India’s recent highly inspired tour of Australia when in poor health he put up a match-changing performance. His recent performance in county cricket was good too. He puts to good use his analytical abilities to make improvments where needed. He put in a lot of effort to improve his batting as well and the results have been evident as he has been making important contributions coming in at number 8, a strength for any team. In fact if any unbiased selection for captaincy of Indian team is made, Ravichandaran Ashwin would be one of the strong contenders.
So when such a great player in good form is excluded at a stretch for four matches, questions are bound to be raised. Sometimes there are factors specific to a ground requiring peculiar decisions but leaving him out of all four Test matches is beyond reason. He should have been there in at least two matches, if not all four. Each time he was excluded there were hopes of his inclusion in the next match, but his exclusion in all four matches so far is beyond reason.
Shashi Tharoor tweeted when he heard of his exclusion in the fourth match—I can’t believe they left out Ashwin again on a ground helpful to spinners. This team is unbelievable. You pick your best five bowlers. Ashwin has to be first or second name.” Former England captain Michael Vaughan called Ashwin’s exclusion the greatest non-selection of the series so far. Mark Waugh said this makes you wonder if the Indian think-tank has any clue. V.V.S. Laxman , as elegant a commentator now as he was a cricketer in his times, voiced the feelings of countless cricket lovers when he stated that he could not find any reasoning behind this exclusion for four tests.
It has been difficult to find a reason because none exists. This exclusion is explained not by reason but by lack of reason, by a sense of being stubborn and obstinate about a bias. Here is an old malady of Indian cricket re-asserting itself. Some persons become too powerful. Power brings arrogance. Wrong decisions taken in such conditions cannot be corrected early enough. Serious mistakes get prolonged. A highly promising player can be frustrated in his peak years. As arrogance increases, there is less transparency and reason. In such conditions team spirit suffers. The joy which cricket brings to so many people is eroded when there is a strong sense of injustice and bias in important decisions.
Let us also not make this an issue of Ashwin vs. Jadeja. Jadeja too is a great player, a great trier, a very spirited as well as talented player. In fact it has been a joy to watch them both playing together. Let us not make this a case of Ashwin versus anyone. Our case here is simply that such a great player as Ashwin can not be made to sit out in all the matches. In a situation of several good players trying to find a place, we would still be happy if Ashwin had played at least two of the four matches, providing a chance to others in the two other matches. But excluding him in all four matches is terrible injustice.
Also the captaincy of Virat Kohli should not be taken for granted . He has been a great batsman , not always a great captain. In this series and in the earlier world championship match against New Zealand the Indian team has played below its potential. In fact India has a richness of cricketing talent and it is the rsponsibility of leadership to make the best use of this talent. This has not happened lately.
It will be good and healthy for Indian cricket to keep captaincy options more open. The Indian team playing under Rahane during the latest Australian tour ( following Kohli’s early return to India for family reasons) performed very well in Australia. There were more inspirational performances, the team spirit was more in evidence, as was grit to emerge from difficult conditions.
Kohli should show his conduct to be more reason-based and transparent. He should stop being stubborn and should be responsive to well-intentioned, well-reasoned criticism. He should be more of a team-man, devote more time and effort to making the best use of the great cricketing talent flourishing in India, waste less time in advertizing and commercial side-kicks of his main job. Alternatively, a change of captaincy should be very much on the agenda. In fact other countries have been able to change their captains on performance basis more easily. It is time we also show more maturity and rationality in this respect.
Bharat Dogra is a writer, journalist and author.