Ravichandran Ashwin or Washington Sundar can potentially end up in India’s squad for Cricket World Cup 2023.
A month and half back, Ravichandran Ashwin was eloquently explaining on his Tamil YouTube channel, why a talent like Tilak Varma should be seriously considered for the ODI World Cup. One of India’s greatest match-winners in Test cricket wouldn’t possibly have envisaged that in six weeks time he would be summoned for a two-match trial against Washington Sundar — nearly a decade and half junior to him. Close selection calls are par for course when it comes to World Cup squads. But just two weeks before the mega event, the Indian team management has called the two off-spinners for the three-match series against Australia to keep a ready back-up option in case Axar Patel’s quadriceps tear doesn’t heal on time.
It will be a virtual shoot-out and their performances on flat decks of Mohali and Rajkot will be monitored by Ajit Agarkar’s selection committee.
“I think Ashwin will be slightly ahead now that a bowler of his stature has been called into the mix. I have always felt that Ashwin should have been in the mix from the time the team got into the ODI World Cup mode,” said former chairman of selectors MSK Prasad, who was at helm when the 2019 squad was selected.
So, who will be his pick if Axar can’t make it to the World Cup? “Look, let us hope that Axar is fit for the final ODI in Rajkot. Because if he is fit, however well Ashwin or Washy bowl, it will be Axar who will retain his place. If he has been your pick ahead of these two, then you have to have him if he is good to go,” Prasad set the record straight.
“But this is one of the most fascinating World Cup trials that you will get (to see). Question is: if they are looking at a 50-50 batting-bowling option then it is Washy. But if they are looking at a purely spin bowling option, then Ash holds an edge as far as I am concerned,” Prasad said.
Harbhajan Singh, however, has a contrarian viewpoint.
The ‘Turbantor’ believes that if the team management and selectors took an informed decision to summon Washington in Colombo for the Asia Cup final and even fielded him in the playing XI, then he should be the first-choice replacement.
“Washington bowls well in Powerplays. He is a brilliant fielder and last but not the least is a left-hander in that lower middle order. So, he does come as a package,” said Harbhajan.
Another national selector, who refused to be named, had an interesting take on the Washington vs Ashwin debate.
“No offence meant but Axar’s supposed hamstring injury could just be a blessing in disguise. The decision to have a right-arm finger spinner should have been taken long back and now, perhaps, at eleventh hour, they have got that opportunity,” the selector, who has seen some pitched battles between previous captains and selection committees, said.
He then decoded the whole issue that the Indian team is facing.
“Not denying that Axar played two crucial knocks in the Asia Cup and one was in a winning cause against Sri Lanka. But just look at his bowling on a track that offered considerable turn. If Charith Asalanka is picking up four wickets and you (Axar) are not even getting most of your deliveries to turn, it is a problem,” added the former selector.
“Mind it, Jaddu (Ravindra Jadeja) is lethal when there is help off the surface and doubly so, if Ashwin is operating at the other end. Also, why did they call two off-spinners and not a like-for-like replacement. The next in line are Shahbaz Ahmed and Abhishek Sharma (left-arm spin and left-handed bat). These two are okay for Asian Games level but certainly not for the World Cup,” he added.
“Also at the moment, they asked Ashwin to report for his fitness update at NCA (after the Super 4 against Pakistan, if one goes by his Instagram handle), you would know that he is in line and there is a clear dilemma in Rohit (Sharma), Rahul (Dravid) and Ajit (Agarkar)’s mind as to who is the best option.
“Is it a bits and pieces cricketer like Washy or someone like Ashwin, who can turn a game or two on Indian tracks? Hence they called both,” the selector said.
Prasad agreed to the point.
“I believe some of the tracks will offer help for spinners. In Chennai, think about Ashwin’s possible match-up against Steve Smith or a left-hander like David Warner. Yes, his successes came in the red ball (cricket) but just think about the possibilities,” the former India stumper added.
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