One of the debates during India’s tour of the West Indies centred on R Ashwin‘s place in the side in overseas Tests, after the offspinner missed out on the starting XI in both the Antigua and Jamaica Tests. In both matches, India went with Ravindra Jadeja as the lone spinner, with coach Ravi Shastri explaining that the preference for Jadeja was based on his improved batting and sharp fielding skills.
Former India captain and coach Anil Kumble, however, has backed Ashwin, insisting that he remains the No. 1 spinner in the side and India have to find a way to get him in. Ashwin has not played a Test for India since the first match the tour of Australia last year in Adelaide, where he suffered an abdomen injury that eventually ruled him out for the rest of the tour. Earlier that year, he had failed to finish the England series, after aggravating a hip injury. Despite the injuries, Ashwin’s figures in seven overseas Tests in 2018 were 24 wickets at 30.16.
“He is still the best spinner that you have,” Kumble said in an interview with cricketnext.com. “Yes, there have been a few incidents where he has had injuries and not performed to his potential, but Ashwin is your No. 1 spinner in the team. He should be a part of the squad, he should be in the playing XI, you have to make a way of getting him in.”
Citing Ashwin’s batting credentials – the offspinner averages nearly 30 in Tests and has four centuries and 11 fifties – Kumble believed the team could accommodate both Ashwin and Jadeja, adding heft to their lower-order batting too.
“I strongly believe that the team certainly can have two spinners in the squad, because both Ashwin and Jadeja are wonderful batsmen,” he said. “Ashwin has had four Test hundreds, Jadeja has been really consistent with the bat. He did that again in the West Indies, he’s a wonderful bowler too and both of them in tandem can certainly be handful for the opposition. So yes, when India travel outside, it’s not always that you get four bowlers to pick up 20 wickets.
“Ideally, if you have a combination of three fast bowlers and two spinners, wherein your two spinners can also contribute with the bat, that’s the perfect scenario. And you have two front-line spinners who are equally good as batsmen, so I think it’s just a matter of time, I strongly believe that Ashwin will certainly make it into the playing XI. So, the management needs to look at that and I am a bit surprised that someone with the ability and quality of Ashwin is sitting out in a Test match.”
Kumble also urged the selectors to have discussions about an exit plan for MS Dhoni, for the sake of clarity within the team and to ensure Dhoni got a proper send-off. There has been considerable speculation around Dhoni’s future following India’s semi-final exit from the World Cup. After the World Cup, Dhoni spent two weeks with the Parachute Regiment of the Indian Army, where he has the rank of honorary Lieutenant Colonel, and had opted out of the West Indies tour. Rishabh Pant handled wicketkeeping duties for all formats on the tour.
While announcing the team for the Caribbean tour, MSK Prasad, India’s chairman of selectors, had stated that a cricketer like Dhoni “knows when to retire”, and went on to add that they had already started grooming youngsters. Kumble said that with the T20 World Cup a year away, roles and responsibilities, including back-ups need to be fixed, and if Dhoni is a part of plans for the T20 World Cup, he needed to be playing all games.
“I think the selectors will have a take a call as to which is the likely team that you’d want in the World Cup because the World Cup is just a year away,” Kumble said. “You’d want a consistent team to be playing right throughout and that’s exactly what didn’t happen in the 50-over [World Cup] competition.
“So, yes, there will be some discussions about an exit plan. But having said that, MS Dhoni certainly deserves a proper send-off, whenever he decides to move on from the sport. But for the team’s sake, the selectors need to sit down and have a discussion around what the plans are because it’s important that things be communicated.
“If the selectors believe that Dhoni is in the scheme of things for the T20 World Cup then I think he should be playing every game. If he’s not, then it’s important that they have a discussion around how they need to make this happen. I think they need to do that in the next couple of months.
“Pant has also shown some inconsistency. So, that’s a call the selectors need to make. Today, in spite of all of that, are you going to back him or someone else, or would you look back? I wouldn’t but I think it’s important that the selectors take a call on that.”