Dropped or Rested? Ashwin and Jadeja’s ODI Career Conundrum

The failure of the spin-bowling duo in the Champions Trophy final has led to urgent changes in the 50-over squad. 

5 min read
Ravindra Jadeja (L) and Ravichandran Ashwin (R).

India’s ODI squad has been undergoing a transformation over the last couple of years. In the first instance over the last couple of years, India has not played as much One-Day International cricket as it would in the past. Also, the 50-over format was not on top priority with Test cricket and World T20 2016 taking precedence.

But with less than two years to go for the World Cup in 2019, all the focus is back on the 50-over format. The loss in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 final to Pakistan has forced the Indian think tank to rethink the format.

The changes in playing conditions, flat pitches that are obtained in 50-over cricket have made the Indian brains trust to change track.

This has meant some significant changes, especially in the spin bowling department. India’s premier spin bowling pair in Test cricket Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are no longer certainties in coloured clothing.

Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra at a net session.
Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra at a net session.
(Photo: Reuters)

The failure of the spin bowling duo in the final of the Champions Trophy has led to urgent changes in the 50-over squad. Together Ashwin and Jadeja gave away 137 runs in the final as Pakistan piled up a mammoth 338 for four in their 50 overs. The same pair of spinners were the heroes of India’s 2013 Champions Trophy win, but had struggled to gain control of the proceedings in the 2017 edition.

It is interesting that since the 2015 World Cup while both Ashwin and Jadeja have risen in stature in whites, their stocks have fallen in white ball cricket. In fact, since the start of the 2015 World Cup till the Indore ODI against Australia, India has played 53 ODIs, but Ashwin and Jadeja have featured in less than half of those games.

That tells a story of how the think tank has been trying to slowly recast the ODI bowling attack. The need to have more than a bit of guile and the presence of a wrist spinner has almost become mandatory. India has even, in fact, moved on from Amit Mishra, the leg-spinner who starred in the ODI series win over New Zealand at home last year.

The presence of two fairly different, but essentially wrist spinners in Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal has added a bit more variety to the attack in the middle overs.  There has been, as a result, a steady fall of wickets that has slowed down the rival batting line-ups.

Kuldeep Yadav celebrates after taking a wicket against Australia.
Kuldeep Yadav celebrates after taking a wicket against Australia.
(Photo: AP)

Since the start of the 2015 World Cup, Jadeja has picked up 21 wickets in 25 ODIs with a best of 2-23. What is even more telling is the fact that his average in this period has gone up to 55.76, while his career average is at 35.87.

For Ashwin in the same phase, the stats do not reveal a marked change, but just that his best of 4-25 came against United Arab Emirates (UAE) during the 2015 World Cup. His average is at 34 in 23 ODIs that he has played since the World Cup, against a career average of 32.91. His wicket-taking ability in the middle overs is what the team is after and that has been lacking in the last couple of years.

But what is surprising, is that in the same time frame the pair of Ashwin and Jadeja have become almost an unstoppable force in Test match cricket. They are currently among the top five in the ICC Test Rankings for bowlers. Ashwin has picked up 147 wickets in 24 Tests since November 2015, whereas Jadeja has taken 110 wickets in 20 Tests.

Former India stumper and former chairman of selectors Kiran More feels the spin bowling pair needs to reinvent their plans for limited-overs cricket.

These two boys have played for a fairly long period in 50-over matches. Batsmen world over are better prepared for them. They need to start looking for wickets, instead of trying to tire batsmen. One-day cricket has changed so the two of them also need to evolve with time. They are still good enough to make a return to ODI cricket if they are able to change their approach.
Kiran More
It has been eight ODIs since either Ashwin or Jadeja have played for India.
It has been eight ODIs since either Ashwin or Jadeja have played for India.
(Photo: Reuters)

While the problem is evident to the rest of the cricket ecosystem, those within the set-up continue to be vague about it. MSK Prasad, the current chairman of selectors still maintains that the duo has been rested.

The fact is that it has been eight ODIs since either Ashwin or Jadeja have played for India. At the same time, Ashwin has been turning out in County Championship for Worcestershire, underlining his intentions in preparing for next year’s Test tour to England.

Ashwin's predecessor Harbhajan Singh questioned his supposed 'rest' while speaking to India Today.

I am not sure if Ashwin has been rested or dropped. We have seen reports that Ashwin has been rested but at the same time in his rest period he is going to England to play county cricket. So I don’t know what kind of rest it is going to be. I am not sure whether he has been rested or dropped.
Harbhajan Singh

Jadeja on the other hand, did come back into the ODI squad for the first three games against Australia, in place of an injured Axar Patel. But when Patel got fit, he was quickly shown the door again.

Former India captain Sourav Ganguly believes Jadeja is still a better package in limited-overs cricket than Ashwin.

I was present at the Champions Trophy commentating and I could get a feeling around that there could be a possibility in due course that both Jadeja and Ashwin don’t play on good pitches. If Kuldeep Yadav keeps performing then I think there will be pressure on either Ashwin or Jadeja and Jadeja’s fielding and batting could just be a bit more beneficial to him.
Sourav Ganguly, to India Today

(Chandresh Narayanan is former cricket writer with The Times of India, The Indian Express, ex-Media Officer for ICC and current media manager of Delhi Daredevils. He is also the author of World Cup Heroes, Cricket Editorial consultant, professor and cricket TV commentator.)

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