Sunil Gavaskar: Ashwin getting overlooked time and again a good thesis subject

As soon as the Olympics were over and our heroes returned to a rousing welcome, never mind the pandemic, cricket was back, though not quite the centrestage, as India resumed its quest for points in the World Test Championships.

The Olympics fever swamped even the cricket coverage which does not usually happen but the euphoria over the Neeraj gold was infectious and no cricket lover would complain about the game being pushed to the background.   -  PTI/AP/Getty Images

India’s medal haul at the Tokyo Olympics may have been less than expected but the disappointment of that was overshadowed by Neeraj Chopra whose javelin throw won a gold medal in track and field for the first time for the country. This is going to be a golden moment in the history of Indian sports forever. People will be asking many years later “where were you on the day Neeraj Chopra won the gold medal for India?”

There will, no doubt, be postmortems on why the medals expected in some sports did not come through and as long as these are honest and not just for show, there’s a good chance of not repeating the same mistakes next time around. Also the temptation to find a scapegoat should be avoided. Before the Olympics the results have been most encouraging and one failure must not be a reason to embark on a witch hunt.

The Olympics fever swamped even the cricket coverage which does not usually happen but the euphoria over the Neeraj gold was infectious and no cricket lover would complain about the game being pushed to the background.

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As soon as the Olympics were over and our heroes returned to a rousing welcome, never mind the pandemic, cricket was back, though not quite the centrestage, as India resumed its quest for points in the World Test Championships in the second Test match at Lords. It had been penalised points for a slow over rate just like England had been in the first Test match. So India had to show some urgency in getting the overs bowled in time to not incur another points penalty. Remember Australia had failed to qualify for the finals of the first ever WTC because it had been docked penalty points for slow over­rate against India and thus New Zealand went ahead of it and qualified and eventually went on to win the inaugural WTC finals.

Playing with four seam bowlers does not help the over­rate and so both teams suffered in the first Test match. One can understand England playing with four seam bowlers as it does not have class spinners but India didn’t help its over­rate by leaving out Ravichandran Ashwin in both the first two Test matches. Why Ashwin gets overlooked time and again overseas can be a good subject for a doctorate thesis and despite showing on the last couple of overseas tours that he can take wickets in foreign conditions. Some players can have the faith of those who matter and that faith helps them to come back stronger and make a significant contribution to the team’s cause.

K. L. Rahul is a fine example. He has been out of the frame for selection for Test matches for a couple of years now. However, knowing the potential that he has, he keeps getting selected for the Test squad regularly without actually playing in the final XI. This time, too, the talk was more about him being slotted in the middle order rather than as an opening batsman. As luck would have it, Mayank Agarwal, who was the front runner to open the batting with Rohit Sharma, had a concussion after being hit on the helmet a couple of days before the first Test and the tour selection committee opted for Rahul to take his place. He responded with a well compiled 84 in the comeback Test and went on to get a classy, elegant hundred in the second Test which pretty much seals his place as an opener for some time to come. Both these innings were in tough conditions where the ball was swinging in the air and seaming after pitching. India’s openers Rohit and Rahul showed exemplary technique and patience to negotiate the early movement and laid the foundation in both the Tests which sadly was not capitalised by the middle order batsmen. So, just like the faith in Rahul has shown great results, similar confidence shown in Ashwin could well have reaped benefits in the bowling.

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A rearguard batting action by Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah and then some incisive bowling by the fast bowlers, particularly Mohammed Siraj, helped India win the second Test.

Today’s tours are such that in the eight day gap between the second and the third Test there will be no cricket played by the touring team. This means that the batsmen out of form or a bowler like Ashwin can’t make a case for inclusion in the third Test. The out­ of­ form batsmen would love another outing to try and regain their touch and those out of the XI also get a chance to show that they should be considered for the next Test. If there are changes in the playing squad, those will be players coming cold into the demanding arena of Test cricket without a proper first­ class game for more than a month. That does not help anybody. Now that teams are travelling with a squad of 22, a first­ class came in this longish gap would have given the chance to rest those who have done well in the earlier Test; and also try out others in the reserves and give another opportunity to those out of form and needing a hit. India has struggled overseas because schedules are drawn taking into account the needs of the senior players who will not be dropped irrespective of form but it does not help the overall squad as others don’t get a chance to make a claim for a place in the playing XI. Later in the year there is a tour to South Africa, the only country India has not beaten in their conditions and hopefully the itinerary will be such that ample chances are made available to the reserves too.

We saw in Australia how reserves came through when the big guns were away or injured and won the series. Yes sir, all that they ask is a chance to show they too are ready to play successfully for India.

 

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