Antigua snub the latest setback to Ravi Ashwin's status as India's frontline Test spinner

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What next for Ravichandran Ashwin?

It was a comprehensive 318-run win for India in the first clash of their two-match Test series against the West Indies but the experience for spin stalwart Ravichandran Ashwin was a bittersweet one.

The last time India played a Test against the West Indies at Antigua in 2016, Ashwin finished as the man-of-the-match in a thumping win by an innings and 92 runs for the visitors. The off-spinner cracked an excellent ton with the bat in the first-innings before returning with figures of 7-83 with the ball in the second innings.

Ashwin eventually went on to bag the man-of-the-series award as well after claiming a total of 17 wickets in the four Tests while chipping in with 235 runs with the bat.

Yet, the 32-year-old could only watch from the sidelines at Antigua this time around with Virat Kohli and the Indian team management opting to go with Ravindra Jadeja as the sole spinner instead in the first Test against West Indies.

For long, Ashwin had been India’s go-to spinner in the red-ball format and he was one of the pivotal figures in the side’s march to the top of the Test rankings in the home stretch of 2016-17. In fact, between 2015 and 2018, no other spinner in the world picked up more Test wickets than Ashwin who claimed 201 of them in 38 matches at an average of 23.26.

However, successive overseas tours of South Africa, England and Australia in 2018 saw Ashwin fall down the pecking order. The off-spinner has missed important Tests in each of the three tours, either through injury or due to the team management deciding to go with other personnel instead.

Ashwin has long been India's go-to spinner in the Test format.

Ashwin has long been India’s go-to spinner in the Test format.

He didn’t feature in the third and final Test against South Africa at Johannesburg with India opting to go with an all-pace attack. Ashwin then went on to miss the final Test in England as well in the summer before sitting out three of the four clashes in Australia at the end of the year with an injury.

That he was outbowled by Moeen Ali and Nathan Lyon for large parts of the England and Australia tours respectively have only served to dent Ashwin’s overseas Test credentials.

Of the last 13 overseas Tests, Ashwin has now missed six of them and primarily due to his fitness issues. In his absence, it is Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav who have profited with head coach Ravi Shastri going as far as declaring the latter as India’s first-choice overseas Test spinner after his displays in Australia.

“He (Kuldeep) plays overseas Test cricket and he gets five wickets, so he becomes our primary overseas spinner. Going ahead, if we have to play one spinner, he is the one we will pick,” Shastri had told Cricbuzz after Kuldeep’s five-wicket haul in the Sydney Test last year.

“There is a time for everyone. But now Kuldeep is our frontline number one overseas spinner.”

The fact that Kuldeep was benched along with Ashwin in India’s first overseas Test engagement since the Australian tour disapproves Shastri’s assertion but it does show that there is no clear No1 spinner in the side at the moment.

Kuldeep also seems to have pulled ahead of Ashwin in the pecking order.

Kuldeep also seems to have pulled ahead of Ashwin in the pecking order.

The fact that Jadeja has performed well in Ashwin’s absence has only compounded the off-spinner’s problems as well. In the seven Tests that Jadeja has played since the turn of 2018, the southpaw has claimed a total of 29 wickets while also registering one ton and three fifties with the bat.

Since the turn of 2015, Jadeja has contributed with 149 wickets in 30 Tests at an average of 22.06 which is even lower than Ashwin’s. It is Jadeja who is now ranked higher in the ICC Test bowlers’ rankings with the left-hander lying in the 10th spot ahead of Ashwin in 13th.

With the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma giving India a newfound supremacy in the pace department, the role of the spinner has become that of a supporting one overseas.

As such, there’s space for one spinner in the playing XI and it is clearly not Ashwin’s name which comes up first.

Ashwin’s wings in India’s limited-overs setup were clipped swiftly along with that of Jadeja in the aftermath of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final defeat to Pakistan. Since then, Jadeja has forced his way back into the ODI and T20 squads while also featuring in the World Cup but Ashwin continues to remain relegated.

With Jadeja and even Kuldeep now overtaking him in the Test pecking order, things are suddenly not looking very bright for India’s spin stalwart.

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