Former Australia skipper Ian Chappell reckons that India is a very good side, but they need to find a way to include Ravichandran Ashwin in their playing XI at all times.
In the recently-concluded Test series against England, Ashwin did not find a place for himself in the playing XI in four Tests and the fifth match of the series had to be cancelled after India’s assistant physio tested positive for COVID-19. “There’s no doubt that India are a very good all-round team. They have conclusively proved it by winning consecutive series in Australia and now having had success in England, albeit Covid-affected, while they are virtually unbeatable at home. However, that isn’t to say they can’t improve. That’s how good teams remain at or near the top – by constantly searching for ways to be better. Herbie Collins, a shrewd Australian captain of the 1920s, reckoned the most important aspect of selection was finding the right combination,” Chappell wrote in his blog for ESPNcricinfo.
“India’s best combination includes R Ashwin. He is a fine bowler under all conditions, as he proved in Australia, so India need to find a way to fit him into the XI. In trying to find a balance between the right- and left-hand batters in the middle order at The Oval, they may have inadvertently stumbled on the solution – Ravindra Jadeja at No. 5. If Jadeja proves good enough to hold down that spot in the order, the other piece required to complete the puzzle is a seam-bowling allrounder. The ideal player would be a fully fit Hardik Pandya, but they do have a second choice in Shardul Thakur,” he added.
Further talking about Ashwin, Chappell said: “The art of good selection is to be constantly looking for ways to make even a top-class team better. The priority is always to win the next match, but this should be achieved with one eye on the future. Tweaking the Indian middle order to accommodate the skills of Ashwin should be a priority for the selectors. It’s a scary thought for the other Test sides that Virat Kohli’s highly successful team can be improved.”
“A middle order that reads Jadeja, Rishabh Pant, Pandya and Ashwin should provide the runs expected of that section. With three fast bowlers to follow, the batting is then supported by a versatile attack. That’s the advantage of having a strong, well-balanced attack – you don’t need huge scores to chase victory. The simplest equation for winning Test matches is for the batters to score quickly in order to give the bowlers enough time to take 20 wickets,” he added.
Chappell also suggested that India can look to have Ravindra Jadeja play at the number five slot instead of Ajinkya Rahane. However, the former Australia skipper highlighted how Rahane’s loss would lead to lack of tactical input.
“The other good point about that middle order is that it’s interchangeable. Skill-wise, Pant is the best batter of that lot. He’s capable of restraint when the situation demands, so he could easily handle No. 5, especially when India bat first. However if he’s had a long stint in the field, he could slide down the order to allow Jadeja to come in at five. Pandya also has the potential to handle No. 5, and given encouragement, he could fulfil the role,” said Chappell.
“Another attribute of that trio is their powerful strokeplay. The ability to accelerate the scoring rate is essential in Test cricket and those three are an ideal combination to take advantage of a good start to the innings. They are also a perfect fit for situations where the team is either chasing or setting a target. The only downside would be the loss of Ajinkya Rahane’s tactical input and his slip fielding to the spinners. Nevertheless Rohit Sharma is now an acclaimed captain and he’s capable of handling the vice-captaincy role,” he added.