NEW DELHI: Since the beginning of the last home season against New Zealand Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin have played together in 18 of the 19 Tests, with Pallekelle being the lone exception. In that period, the two were having a competition of their own as they were neck and neck in the ICC Test rankings. In those, Ashwin totaled 111 wickets at 25.87, while Jadeja returned with 94 wickets at 23.97.
As they head to South Africa, for captain Virat Kohli it is one of those among the many selection headaches he would have when he sits down with the team-management. Kohli, for all you know, doesn’t shy away from taking surprise decisions as he showed it in Adelaide in 2014, where as a stand-in captain, he dropped Ashwin and gave the rookie leg-spinner Karn Sharma a go. But leaving Ashwin out once again would definitely come as a bold move, however you look at the off-spinners records overseas.
In the last couple of years, Ashwin has transformed into a whole different bowler than what he was during that tour of Australia, where because of various reasons, the team-management believed they were doing him a favour by leaving him out. Instead, he bowled a lot in the nets, asking questions to bowling coach Bharathi Arun and head coach Ravi Shastri before going on to have a stellar World Cup. Since then, he has hardly looked back as he has gone on a great run with the ball, becoming the fastest to 300 Test wickets and has his eyes on at least getting near Anil Kumble’s record tally for India.
Unlike the Ashwin of old, who quickly jumped to different variations when there was not enough purchase from the wicket, the evolved Ashwin sticks to his stock delivery – the off-spinner. The variations do pop up once in a while, but it’s only used to surprise batsmen. He has become more classical now, and has more patience and works on working out the batsmen. But, the offie knows this is the period where the critics might be just waiting to put their tongues out.
Jadeja, on the other hand, just has a little more than half of wickets that Ashwin has accounted for in his career so far, but somehow the indications coming from the Indian camp are that the left-armer could be the one who gets the nod if India decides to play only one spinner. During India’s previous away assignments in 2013, then captain MS Dhoni relied on Jadeja because of relentless accuracy and the ability to tie up one end. And though Kohli likes to go on the attack, he also needs to factor in that with pacers set to have the majority of the workload, rotating them would be crucial and it is important to have a spinner who doesn’t give away much runs.
During the Sri Lanka series, Kohli confirmed that he can’t guarantee 100 per cent whether both will play, however good they may be, but if one goes by indications, you know who is playing. “Obviously, those two guys with their batting abilities are both contenders to start depending upon the batsmen we are up against because when you play on tracks which don’t turn and bounce, it’s very important to understand if the left-arm spinner is bowling to five right-handers or the off-spinner is bowling to four left-handers. Just because of the angle the ball coming in makes so much difference against a spinner. And it can turn away from you at some stage. Those are minor factors that you assess before picking the first spinner in overseas conditions,” Kohli said.