Why Graeme Swann should be considered a better off-spinner than Ravi Ashwin

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Ravi Ashwin has gone missing in some big series.

There were many reasons for India‘s defeat in the fourth Test against England at Southampton which saw them concede the five-match series 3-1 with one to go.

India’s batsmen failed to chase down gettable targets during the first Test in Birmingham and the fourth in Southampton with England’s bowlers chipping in at just the right time to pull the match the hosts’ way. Seam bowling all-rounder Sam Curran was a revelation with the bat as he scored more than 250 runs while the returning Moeen Ali finished with nine wickets in match four to go with his first innings knock of 40.

For India, captain Virat Kohli piled on more than 500 runs in the series while his pacers were on the money pretty much every innings. But when the moment came to grab the initiative, India fell short.

One area that will hurt Team India particularly is the performance of Ravi Ashwin in the fourth Test. It was a wicket that was tailor-made for the ace off-spinner. The pitch in Southampton was dry and big roughs were created on both sides of the pitch by the second day itself.

When Moeen Ali bowled in India’s first innings, he got the ball to spin sharply from the rough and got appreciable bounce. He managed to beat batsmen in the air and off the pitch, snaring five quality Test wickets.

The hope was that Ashwin would go one better, especially after India managed to sneak in a 27-run lead and England were reduced to 92-4 and 122-5 in the second essay.

Even as the pitch deteriorated and the ball exploded off the surface, Ashwin failed to land the ball consistently at one place, forget beat the inside or outside edge of the bat.

The manner in which he celebrated the wicket of Ben Stokes showed he was relieved at getting a wicket at last. However, more than 37 overs for 84 runs and one wicket was simply not good enough in a surface where Moeen picked up nine in the match.

When England pace ace James Anderson got ideal bowling conditions in the second Test at Lord’s he decimated the Indian line-up twice to bowl them out for 107 and 130 with nine in the match, no questions asked. Top performers raise their game when the team needs them and especially when the conditions suit them. Anderson did, Ashwin didn’t.

Ashwin was probably carrying an injury from the third Test. In that case, he should not have played the fourth Test and his spot should have gone to Ravindra Jadeja who is guaranteed to pick up quick wickets on helpful surfaces.

This isn’t the first time Ashwin has failed to make the most of a helpful surface. Against the same opposition in the 2012 Test in Mumbai, the Indians had amassed 327 in the first innings on a pitch that was already breaking up. But instead of strangling the life out of England with India 1-0 up in the series, he bowled 42.3 overs for two wickets and 145 runs as Kevin Pietersen hit arguably the greatest century by a visiting batsman in India. England won the match and went on to win the series.

Ashwin doesn’t have any major series wins outside Asia under his belt and that puts him below England off-spinner Graeme Swann in the history books.

Ashwin has 327 wickets from 62 Tests while Swann has 255 from 60. But Swann was star of the show in two of England’s greatest Test series wins in contemporary cricket.

Swann picked up 20 wickets – the joint-most in the series – as England won the 2012 Test series in India. He took 15 wickets from five Tests as England tasted Ashes glory Down Under in 2010/11.

Both were exemplary efforts in tough conditions that should put Swann ahead of Ashwin in Test hierarchy.

Moreover, Ashwin has tinkered with his action and bowling style throughout his career. He has brought in many variations, the ‘carrom ball’ and recently even switched to leg-spin to revive his white-ball career. In between all this, there hasn’t been a long-enough spell of pure off-spin bowling season after season.

Swann, on the other hand, stayed true to his art and started his Test career at the age of 28. So while the record book will show Ashwin as the more successful off-spinner in Tests, it’s Swann who has had a greater impact on the narrative.

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India pacer Mohammed Siraj continues excellent run with eight-wicket haul

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Siraj picked up 8-59 in the first unofficial Test at Bengaluru.

India fast bowler Mohammed Siraj has been in sensational form with the red ball this season. He has consistently been among the top wicket-takers in the domestic circuit and also in international matches with the ‘A’ team. The Hyderabad pacer is quickly gaining a reputation as a long-term Test prospect and he strengthened that belief with another super effort against Australia ‘A’.

Playing the unofficial Test for India ‘A’ in Bengaluru, Siraj snared 8-59 against the Aussies as the Indians restricted the visitors to 243 in the first innings after they were well-placed at 204-4 at one stage.

He picked up one more wicket in the second innings by stumps on day two on Monday, with nine Australian wickets left.

It has been a superb year for the 24-year-old. In the last five first-class matches, Siraj has picked up an incredible 38 wickets against top teams. There is still one more innings to go against Australia ‘A’ and one of the five matches – against South Africa ‘A’ – had just one bowling innings.

Siraj picked up eight wickets against the West Indies ‘A’ in England in July, seven against the England Lions, 10 against South Africa ‘A’ in Bengaluru and four in one innings against the same opposition.

With nine wickets already in the bag against the Aussies, Siraj is forcing the selectors to pick him for red-ball assignments later in the year.

Siraj has played three T20 matches for India and was unimpressive in them, going for over 12 an over. But it’s red ball cricket where he thrives. His first-class record now stands at 95 wickets from 20 matches which comes to around five per match which is brilliant for a subcontinent pacer.

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India pick left-arm fast bowler Khaleel Ahmed for Asia Cup

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Khaleel Ahmed.

India selected left-arm fast bowler Khaleel Ahmed for the upcoming Asia Cup in the UAE, adding an intriguing twist to the squad.

India’s seam bowling attack is dominated by right-arm quicks across formats with left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav the only southpaw to feature regularly.

Recently, India had given chances to left-arm seamers Barinder Sran and Jaydev Unadkat in white-ball cricket but neither of them have reached the levels attained by Irfan Pathan or RP Singh. None of them have even come close to filling the void created after the departure of the best left-arm quick produced by India – Zaheer Khan.

Khaleel has become a successful white-ball bowler. Hailing from Tonk in the Indian state of Rajasthan, the 20-year-old has 28 wickets from 17 List ‘A’ matches and 17 wickets from 12 T20 matches.

Since July, he has been part of the India ‘A’ team for 50-over matches and has picked up at least one wicket in nine straight matches, in England and at home. His best efforts in recent months have been 3-45 against South Africa ‘A’ in Bengaluru and 3-48 against England Lions in London.

According to reports, Khaleel has added a yard or two of pace. Lack of pace was one of the reasons why Sran and Unadkat failed to succeed at the top level.

Khaleel learned the tricks of the trade during his two-year stint at Delhi Daredevils alongside Zaheer and this year at Sunrisers Hyderabad with Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the IPL.

Speaking to ESPNcricinfo, Khaleel said he tried to learn from Bhuvneshwar about how to prepare as a bowler.

“With Bhuvneshwar at Sunrisers, I learnt about death bowling,” said Khaleel. “How he trains in the nets, how he practices bowling yorkers and does target practice. He is a very simple person, and is always ready to offer advice.”

India’s bowling arsenal is well-stocked with enough variety. What they are missing is a quality left-arm quick. Australia (Mitchell Starc), Pakistan (Mohammad Amir among many others), New Zealand (Trent Boult), Bangladesh (Mustafizur Rahman) and now even England (Sam Curran) have excellent left-arm bowlers. India will be hoping Khaleel makes an impression, as and when he gets an opportunity.

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