R Ashwin‘s last One-Day International was in June this year while Ravindra Jadeja last played an ODI in July. This was during the tour of West Indies. Their last Twenty20 International too came on the same tour when they were part of the one-off match at Sabina Park. For the limited-overs series in Sri Lanka, they were left out of the squad and the reasoning behind that was they had been ‘rested’.
The ‘rest’ has extended so far and is now set to extend further with both Ashwin and Jadeja not named in the ODI squad for the six-match series in South Africa. Their replacements – Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel – have done exceedingly well, so much so that Virat Kohli has made up his mind that wrist spinners are the way forward.
“We always had in mind to bring wrist-spinners into play. We honestly did not think of playing two together, but they are so good together that it is tempting to play them every game together,” Kohli had said about Kuldeep and Chahal. “Also, we will have to see how much we expose certain bowlers who have played across formats; it’s a rhythm thing. With batsmen, it’s very different. With bowlers, it’s even more difficult because you really need to change the way you bowl according to a format and that can hamper the most important format which is Test cricket for us. It’s been a combination of both – giving guys chances as well as understanding the workloads of bowlers who have played for a while.
“Ashwin and Jadeja have played for last six-seven years, played limited-overs cricket for us regularly. These youngsters have stepped up. It creates a strong pool for us before the World Cup and contrary to a lot of things being said left, right and center, we understand how the dynamics of the team going forward and that is something which will be hard to explain otherwise. People only count results and right now we are getting results, so we are happy with it.”
MSK Prasad, the chairman of selectors, on Saturday (December 23), acknowledged that they are trying to find a settled core and identify members who will play in the 2019 World Cup, ahead of the series in England later this year. That essentially means the series in South Africa is more or less going to be the last chance for the players to present their case.
While Prasad acknowledged that both Ashwin and Jadeja are still in the scheme of things, he also said they are looking to create specialists for every format. Prasad’s statement translates to both Jadeja and Ashwin being looked at as Test specialists while Chahal, Kuldeep and Axar will be the men marked for limited-overs cricket. “We are moving towards that direction where we want specialists for different formats. We are targeting that in all three formats we should be number one,” Prasad revealed. “Since the Champions Trophy, we have tried the new boys and they have been doing well. It’s a unanimous decision that these boys should be given an extended run. It’s not like there are no roles for Ashwin and Jadeja. When we picked these three guys, we wanted to increase a bench strength in the spin department. Today, I am sure that all of us will accept that we have quality 5-6 spinners who are aiming for the slots.
“We are trying quite a lot of boys so that after this series we will have a core team. Probably from the England series, we’ll have a core team. We’ll fix up certain members and then take it from there on.
“Axar has been doing really well. Even in the ‘A’ series in South Africa, he did really well. That’s why we want to continue with him. At the end of the day, we want to try different permutations and combinations before we fix up a core team, that’s why we are giving him an extended run,” Prasad added further.
Kuldeep has picked up 22 wickets from 14 ODIs at an impressive economy of 4.88. Chahal, who is also the leading wicket-taker in T20Is in 2017, has 27 wickets from 17 games at an economy of 4.67. It’s not tough after all to see why selectors want to stick with the wrist-spinners.
That aside, Prasad also refused to shut the door on the prospect of Ashwin and Jadeja returning to the limited-overs side. He believed with the amount of cricket the two spinners play, they’ll be able to adapt when the chance comes their way. “We have enough game time coming up for them (Ashwin and Jadeja). The limited-overs tournament will start soon. They have played enough cricket and they have enough wickets under their belt,” he said. “The only issue is that Kuldeep and Chahal are winning games for you. And since they are doing that, it only makes sense to give them an extended run and continue with them for some time.”
While Prasad refused to give any clear indications about the limited-overs future of Ashwin and Jadeja, his statement also reflected that it will be hard to see them making a comeback anytime soon. And chances of playing in the 2019 World Cup could be blurring out. Well, that’s what the present scenario is implying.