India defended leaving out the world’s No.1-ranked Test bowler on the first day of the World Test Championship final at the Oval.
Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin was dropped for Umesh Yadav after conditions were deemed more suitable for a fourth seamer.
But the decision backfired. The green-tinged pitch lost its bite when the sun came out after an hour.
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India took only three wickets and none for most of the last four hours. Australia finished on 3-327 after an unbeaten partnership of 251 runs by Travis Head (146) and Steve Smith (95).
Yadav and the sole spinner, all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, went wicketless in 28 overs. There didn’t appear to be much turn for Jadeja on the first day.
Captain Rohit Sharma said the conditions dictated excluding Ashwin, a frequent match-winner for India, and bowling coach Paras Mhambrey defended it.
“It’s always a very difficult decision to drop a champion bowler like that,” Mhambrey said.
“But I thought the conditions in the morning, having the additional seamer would definitely be beneficial. It has worked in the past. You can always look at hindsight, saying (an) additional spinner would have been a different (story).”
Mhambrey blamed the India bowlers for losing their discipline after a bright start.
“The first 12, 15 overs, we really bowled in the right areas,” he said.
“But after a little bit, I thought we kind of weren’t disciplined. That’s one of the reasons I thought we conceded a little more runs than we ideally would have preferred.”
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Former India captain Sachin Tendulkar believed a player as good as Ashwin didn’t need a turning track to be effective.
“Sometimes the spinners rely a lot on the bounce, sometimes that little bit of zip that they get off the pitch, also on the overhead conditions, and it depends a lot on the shiny side of the ball,” Tendulkar said before the final on his website 100mbsports.
“If they are able to get that drift, they can make the ball talk in the air without the pitch coming into play.”
Former Australia wicketkeeper Brad Haddin believed the fierce competitor in Ashwin would have overcome any doubts.
“(Ashwin) would’ve been the first name I would’ve looked at (on the team sheet) if I was one of the (opposition’s) left-handers,” Haddin told espncricinfo website.
“You want a player, especially in a big event like this, who walks towards the fire. And Ashwin’s definitely one of those guys against Australia.”
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