Former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting has criticised India's decision to leave out Ravichandran Ashwin out of the playing eleven for the ongoing World Test Championship final against Australia at The Oval in London, saying the ace off-spinner could have been handy in spinning the ball away from left-handed batters.
Australia fielded four left-hand batters in the top seven -- Usman Khawaja, David Warner, Travis Head and Alex Carey, with the first two batters out in the first session on day one of the one-off finale. Instead of Ashwin, the top-ranked Test bowler, India have taken in Shardul Thakur, who got out Warner in the first session.
"Now that they've won the toss and bowled, they want to do some damage with this new ball. Because I think as this game goes on, it will turn and they would've wanted Ashwin to spin this ball away from the Australian left-handers, and he's not there," Ponting was quoted as saying by Channel Seven.
The dilemma of Ashwin being in the playing eleven or not had been a huge topic of discussion in the run-up to the WTC final, leading to contrasting opinions amongst fans and former cricketers. After electing to bowl first, India captain Rohit Sharma admitted that leaving Ashwin out was a tough call.
"We have four seamers and one spinner: Ravindra Jadeja. He (Ashwin) has been a match-winner for us, it is not a great occasion to leave him out. But you have got to do what is best for the team in the given conditions," said Rohit.
Meanwhile, former India cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar was left surprised over Ashwin's omission from India's playing eleven for the all-important WTC final.
"It seems like they're convinced this pitch is very seam-friendly, because Ashwin of late in overseas matches has been pretty good. There's clearly a green look to it (pitch) but the soil underneath looked white to suggest there's some dryness as well, and The Oval historically has never been a seaming pitch," Manjrekar was quoted as saying by ESPNCricinfo.
Traditionally, The Oval has been a spin-friendly pitch. But in this year's county championship, Surrey had not picked a specialist spinner in any of their three matches at the venue. Moreover, Ashwin didn't feature in India's four Tests against England in 2021, including in the 157-run win at The Oval and at rescheduled fifth match in Edgbaston.
Manjrekar feels India playing two spinners in Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in the 2021 WTC final, where they lost to New Zealand in fast-bowling friendly conditions in Southampton, may have played a part in the off-spinner not playing in Tests in England since then, subsequently resulting in him missing out on ongoing WTC final.
"Maybe. But conditions were different. It was a venue where seam bowlers had to bowl. New Zealand had five seam options. I believe you have to look at the history of a certain venue and a pitch rather than how a pitch looks on day one. Ashwin, for many reasons, would've been a good selection (here), plus he adds a bit of batting depth as well," he said.
"The Ashwin we saw against New Zealand in that WTC final and the Ashwin of today, there's a marked change in the way he bowls. This Ashwin you'd think would've done well in these conditions. Having said that, Jadeja against the left-handers isn't too bad, maybe that is the reason why they felt we can still do it with one spinner," he concluded.