Ravichandran Ashwin has not picked too many wickets so far in the current season of the Indian Premier League and yet when Delhi Capitals’ captain Rishabh Pant did not finish his quota of four overs against Rajasthan Royals, coach Ricky Ponting termed that decision as a ‘mistake’ which cost them the match. Ashwin had given away only 14 runs in his 3 overs. The 34 year old didn’t pick a single wicket again in the next match against Punjab Kings; however his four miserly overs where he conceded just 28 runs in a very high scoring match once again highlighted his prowess as a bowler who can easily change roles depending on the match situations.
“He is an ‘all-rounder spin’ bowler who can do multiple duties for any captain. Look at his graph since the Australia tour which is only going up. His specific game plan against Steven Smith and then change of plan against English batsmen in India in the following Test series where he was bowling a different length tells you that he is currently at the peak of his career,” says former India selector Sarandeep Singh.
Statistical evidence clearly demonstrates that in the history of IPL, no Indian besides Ashwin features among the top 10 wicket takers as well as among the top 10 economical bowlers. In the last two seasons of IPL, the veteran off-spinner has picked important wickets at crucial junctures for his teams and has been very miserly at the same time. So, with the T20 World Cup just six months away, can Ashwin make a comeback in the T20 set-up for India?
“He is a very strong contender as he is looking very aggressive and fit. When you are playing a World Cup in India you need an experienced spinner like Ashwin. More so when Kuldeep (Yadav) is struggling and Axar Patel hasn’t been regular either, I think (the presence of) Ravindra Jadeja will make it a great pair again. I can easily see him making a comeback to Indian team,” says Sarandeep who was part of the same selection committee which had dropped Ashwin from the white ball cricket in June 2017. Since then, he hasn’t played for India in shorter formats.
“Across the formats he is best right now. When Ashwin was dropped along with ‘Jaddu’ they were not bowling that well and that’s why Kuldeep-Chahal pair got the chance. Now, the situation has reversed as Ashwin is putting pressure on them and I think it is high time he should be back,” argues Singh.
In India, Ashwin’s record (16 matches and 19 wickets @ economy of 7.16) in T20Is is as good as Yadav (11 matches and 18 wickets @ economy of 8.00) or Chahal (22 matches and 32 wickets @ economy of 8.43) but his real competition is now with his state mate Washington Sundar who plays for Indian captain Virat Kohli’s team Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL. “Washington has been doing really well for us. So you cannot have two players of the same discipline, playing in one spot. So unless Washy has a drastically horrible season and things go south for him,” Kohli had said at the pre-match press conference ahead of the T20I series opener against England recently when pointedly asked about Ashwin's white-ball cricket future.
Yet, experts are not convinced with Kohli’s arguments. Of late, former India captain and chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar along with the former Australian spinner Bred Hogg and the former England captain Mark Butcher have also argued for Ashwin’s inclusion in the white ball cricket. “I find those questions are really laughable because I am totally at peace and extremely happy with the life I am leading right now,” Ashwin told India Today recently when asked about the chances of making a comeback in white ball cricket in March. “That given an opportunity anywhere, I would make a game-breaking performance which I am almost certain about because of the space I find myself in,” Ashwin said, who clearly hasn’t given up on a possible comeback after his stunning shows in Test cricket in recent months.
While Sundar has done well for India in T20s, he still is essentially seen as a defensive option. Someone who is good at bowling some of the tough overs in the powerplay without giving too many runs. In the last two years he has got just 15 wickets in 24 matches (with an economy rate of 7.69 which is higher than his overall career ER of 7.24). Ashwin has got 52 wickets in 46 matches for India and his economy rate has been below 7(6.97). Of course, Sundar is a better batter and certainly a superior fielder than Ashwin but in T20Is Sundar has batted only in 11 innings (out of 31 matches) and hasn’t managed over 50 runs in his career. Ashwin’s runs and average (above 30) looks better but has a poor strike rate in comparison. “There is no dilemma. Simple rule of this format is whoever is in form should get the nod and age doesn’t matter a lot. MS (Dhoni) always used to tell me that this is the kind of format where you need player to take an instant decision. If a youngster doesn’t have enough experience of performing under pressure it can cost you in a big tournament,” says former India selector Singh.
Last time when India was host of a T20 World Cup in 2016, in the T20 World Cup quarterfinal against Bangladesh in Bengaluru it was Ashwin’s 2/20 (economy at 5.00) which was instrumental in winning the match by a single run where all bowlers except Jadeja went above 7.00. “You don’t have to wait till the World Cup. Pick him in the T20 team for the England tour if not for the ODIs. But, at the same time we need to wait how the IPL goes for him and how others perform. So as of now, I don’t see any other,” concludes Singh.