Prediction of rain in London this week may force the Indian team management to stick to the four pacer-one spinner combination in the second Test at the Lord's that begins on Thursday, something already suggested by skipper Virat Kohli. The question is whether R Ashwin, who has picked 43 wickets in 12 overseas Tests since the start of 2018, will get an opportunity.
Ravindra Jadeja's success with the bat (56 in first innings) may keep the door closed on Ashwin even though the India left-arm spinner failed with the ball in the first Test. He bowled 16 overs without a wicket, conceding 50 runs.
Former India spinner Maninder Singh says that in rain-affected matches in England, spinners can only play a supporting role and it is the pacers who have to be the strike bowlers.
"In such conditions, spinners can only contribute. Can't expect a spinner to win you a game. Can't expect spinner to do what [pace bowler] Jasprit Bumrah has done. If there are no rain curtailed games, then spinners will come into play," said the former left-arm spinner to IANS.
This explains why Kohli wants to persist with 4-1 pace-heavy combination.
Ashwin's record in England, on the 2014 and 2018 tours, is not exceptional. He has picked 14 wickets in six matches at an average of 32.92 which is nowhere near his career average of 24.56.
But it was his performance in the World Test Championship (WTC) final that made him a strong contender to be the primary spinner in the Test series against England. Ashwin picked four wickets for 45 runs in 25 overs in the WTC final against New Zealand in Southampton in June. He followed it up with a six-wicket haul for Surrey in a county game last month.
"I like him as a bowler. I like the way he approaches the game, especially the Test matches. He is a match-winner," said Singh to IANS.
He feels Ashwin needs to be treated with care overseas, especially where the pitches are true and don't support spinners as much as in India.
"He is a very clever bowler. If I was around him, I would have never let him be off-guard. I would have whispered only one thing in his ear: You are a match-winner, whatever conditions are there, you are a match-winner," added Singh.
"When he bowls in India, he knows that even if there is a slight lapse in concentration, the pitches will help the ball to turn. He has to bowl in just one spot. But in English conditions, you have to continuously do something or the other," said the former left-arm spinner who played 35 Tests, including in England.
Singh said the captain needs to continuously make him believe and keep egging him on in England.
"In case of concentration lapse, mind goes numb. You need to do too much thinking. If he is not used to thinking continuously, the coach and captain have to keep egging him on and make him believe," said Singh.
The decision to exclude Ashwin from the first Test that ended on Sunday had surprised former cricketers too. Both Ajay Jadeja and Sanjay Manjrekar expected him to be the first choice and said that on air.
After the first Test, Kohli had said that he will keep the template going.
"Most likely it [4-1 combination] will be a template going ahead, but we've always been adaptable as well to the conditions and pace of the wicket. The conditions and the pace on the wicket need to be seen, but this team will be our template," Kohli had said on Sunday.