Melbourne, Jan 17: Hailed as the "best in the world" 2 months ago, Ravichandran Ashwin today found himself out of the Indian Playing XI as the team faced Australia in the 3rd One Day International at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
Ashwin was on a high after his outstanding bowling performances at home, on spinning tracks, against South Africa. He bamboozled the Proteas' batsmen and picked 31 wickets in the 4-match series as India demolished the visitors 3-0.
Last month, on December 7, 2015, Ashwin was on top of the world, bagging the "Man-of-the-series" award and equalling legends Sachin Tendulkar, Glenn McGrath and others.
The 29-year-old Ashwin earned high praises from everyone and Test captain Virat Kohli called him the "best spinner in the world", back then in November. Now, in the ODI team, there is no spot for him. Strange.
"Ashwin is a world-class spinner, probably the best in the world right now. He's one of the main reasons why we were able to win back-to-back series. He's a consistent performer and it's a pleasure to have him in the side," Kohli had said in November after the series-clinching win against South Africa in Nagpur.
Not only Kohli, but Team Director Ravi Shastri too had called Ashwin as the best in the world. "For me Ashwin is the best off-spinner in the world at the moment. Nathan Lyon is a very good off-spinner but the variety this man can bring to the plate is unreal. The biggest testament to Ashwin's brilliance was the way he bowled to Kumar Sangakkara. To stifle a class batsman like Sanga in his crease four times in a row was the mark of a world-class spinner who has realised that he is a world-class spinner," Shastri had said in September 2015.
Always having faced questions over his performances out of India, Ashwin again finds himself to prove on overseas tracks.
In the ongoing 5-match ODI series, Ashwin started off poorly in both games in Perth and Brisbane. In the 1st ODI, he went at 7.55 per over (2/68) as Australia chased down 310. In the 2nd ODI, Ashwin struggled again, being wicketless in his 10 overs (0/60). The hosts won again, overhauling 308.
Ashwin, who has so far played 102 ODIs taking 142 wickets, will surely been hurting by the decision today.
Skipper Dhoni, who has always had faith in his premier spinner, surprised all on Sunday (January 17) as he announced at the toss that Ashwin was not in the Playing XI. With India trailing 0-2 and needing a win to stay alive in the series, it was a shock not to see the experienced Ashwin get the backing.
India handed international debuts for all-rounders Rishi Dhawan and Gurkeerat Singh Mann, in place of Manish Pandey and Ashwin. Ravindra Jadeja was retained, as team's main spinner.
After the 2nd ODI in Brisbane, Dhoni had said it would be difficult to pick Rishi and had backed Ashwin. But 2 days later, he has changed his mind.
"When it comes to whether we can play the extra seamer, if your frontline 3 seamers are going for runs, it is slightly difficult for somebody like a Rishi to come in. He may bowl well, but I am saying it will be slightly difficult for him to be successful with the fielding restrictions. He is not someone who bowls very quick. At the same time in the middle overs you need to bowl a lot of dot balls. That's where you have to decide whether you are better off playing with the two spinners.
"The only option you have is, you will have to sit out Ashwin because (Ravindra) Jadeja gives you that cushion of batting. It is a difficult one. I still feel 3-2 (seamer-spinner) is the best combination. If somebody was there who could bowl a bit of seam-up, that obviously helps. As of now we don't really have (one). We can't really look at Rishi because to play him we will have to get rid of a proper batsman. Then we will have to play six bowlers. Six bowlers is a bit of luxury to have in cricket nowadays," Dhoni had said.
The decision by Dhoni and the team management to drop Ashwin looks unfair. But India's leading spinner will surely be back with a bang soon.