Trent Bridge: The omission of Indias ace spinner Ravichandran Ashwin from the playing XI against England for the first Test that commenced here on Wednesday has caused a stir.
It left English pundits, including former captains like Michael Vaughan and Nasser Hussain, quite aghast. Indeed, the buzz created by the decision stole the thunder from fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah trapping Rory Burns leg before wicket in the very first over even before the home side had got off the mark.
Ashwin was the pick of the spinners in the clash with Australia last winter. In England three summers ago, he had tormented the hosts, especially the left-handed batsmen.
He also troubled the New Zealanders in rather unhelpful conditions at Southampton in the World Test Championship (WTC) final recently. His form in a county championship match for Surrey and in the warm-up game at Durham was excellent. His exclusion was, therefore, stunning.
In effect, India settled for a solitary spinner in Ravindra Jadeja, who is undoubtedly a better batsman, but these days an economical rather than attacking bowler. Of course, his fielding is streets ahead of Ashwin.
The argument that has emerged off-the-record from the Indian camp is that there are just two left-handed batsmen in England's line-up; and so, Jadeja's stock delivery which spins away from a right-hander is an adequate counter. This isn't unsound thinking; yet it's a brave call to drop Ashwin.
Shardul Thakur, a genuine outswing bowler who impressed in India's historic win at Brisbane in January this year, received the nod instead. This meant, as at the Gabba, India opted for a quartet of quicks.
Given the wet weather Britain has experienced of late and consequently the residual moisture that could exist below a pitch surface, this is not a bad idea. But a brilliantly sunny morning slightly curtailed swing and seam, though not altogether.
As the five-Test India-England series got underway at the 183-year-old Trent Bridge cricket ground, a greenish wicket didn't lend itself to pace and bounce as a mid-summer track at this venue normally does.
The softness suggested after effects of rains in preceding weeks. In fact, the weather forecast for the remaining days is mixed skies and more rain. This might vindicate the emphasis on seam.
The second surprise was the exclusion of Ishant Sharma. This was perhaps on the anvil, for Mohammed Siraj has been hammering on the door for a while. But Sharma had done enough in the WTC final to retain his place; so, one expected the transition to occur a match or two later.
That rumours about the Delhi pacer suffering from a niggle were misplaced was demonstrated by the bowler himself when he steamed up and down in the outfield to practice his art during the lunch break.
The selectors kept faith in Rishabh Pant, who was infected by Covid last month, despite his absence from the Durham game. This automatically slotted in K.L. Rahul as Rohit Sharma's partner to open the batting, notwithstanding his century in the mentioned fixture being registered in the middle-order.
England elected to overlook a specialist spinner. In other words, they are reconciled to bowling last without having one. Three years ago, Ashwin had captured only one wicket in two innings, while Adil Rashid ensnared four. If the bounce becomes uneven, a fast bowler can be as effective as a spinner in the fourth venture.
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