Tweak in the tale

With spinners’ record at Oval, India will hope to get combination right

Published: 05th June 2023 08:30 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th June 2023 08:30 AM   |  A+A-


Indian captain Rohit Sharma with his Australian counterpart Pat Cummins. (ICC | Twitter)

Express News Service

CHENNAI:  The last time they were in England for the summit clash of the World Test Championship against New Zealand — the match was played at Southampton — weather had a significant say in the proceedings. One of the key talking points, back then, after India’s defeat to the Black Caps, was the playing XIs the two teams had fielded. The Kane Williamson-led side had gone in with an all-out pace/seam attack while the then captain Virat Kohli fielded two spinners — R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja — despite the first day getting washed out due to rain. 

Calling the experienced duo as all-condition bowlers, the Indian team management had stuck to their best XI possible that gave them depth in the batting. In hindsight, they might be wanting to do things differently as the spinners had very little help through the game. The way they approached their overseas XIs since then said it all. Jadeja was largely a regular while Ashwin was drafted in and out depending on conditions and opponents. 

Two years on, as India is getting ready to launch another attempt for an ICC title, the question is back as well. Do they go with two spinners in the final against Australia at The Oval on June 7 or stick to what they have done whilst touring outside Asia in the last couple of years — play one of Ashwin/Jadeja along with Shardul Thakur with Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and Umesh Yadav/Jaydev Unadkat forming the pace trio. With Australia likely to have at least 3-4 left-handers, it might all come down to the conditions in play.

Now, this is where the conundrum gets more nuanced. Unlike the other venues in England, The Oval arguably has the most subcontinental version (or so to say) of surface to offer. The numbers suggest the same. While pacers (33.34) average 2.65 less than spinners (35.99) in all the Test matches at the venue, since 2015, spinners (24.76) average 2.22 less than the pacers (26.98). Ashwin averages 24 at the Oval in one game while Jadeja averages 31.27 in two. The left-arm spinner had to cope with some extra workload, holding one end up when India were a bowler short in 2018. Their Australian counterpart, Nathan Lyon, too has welcome returns at the venue: 9 wickets in three games at 30.77.

Purely based on this, it could be a no-brainer for India to play both, especially in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, their premium pacer. However, there is more to it. All three games India have played at the venue since 2014 have been in August or after. The Oval hardly host matches at the beginning of an English summer. In fact, the impact spinners have been able to make in the three first-division county games here this season is minuscule, to say the least. That said, it also comes down to the quality of the spinners and there is no contest regarding that when it comes to the Indian duo. 

To sum it up, all eyes will be on Rohit Sharma & Co as they have an important decision to make that could potentially have a significant impact on the result of the game. So much that even Australian team management has been “debating” about it. Their assistant coach Daniel Vettori had told local media last week that they expect Jadeja to play because of his role with the bat. “Ashwin is an incredible bowler and he will be the first choice in most teams, and just with their combinations it may lead to that (him missing selection),” he had said.

What will India do, one will have to wait and see. But do not be surprised if they go with their best XI, with two world-class spinners tasked with controlling the pace of play. 


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