R Ashwin
source: Mr. Ravichandran Ashwin's Twitter handle @ashwinravi99

We are moving one step closer towards the seventh edition of the ICC World T20 with each passing day. If we talk about the Indian squad picked for the mega event, the selection of the veteran finger spinner R Ashwin over the experienced leg spinner Yuzvendra Chahal definitely raised some eyebrows.

Ashwin posed a very strong case for his inclusion by performing well in the IPL 2020. Also, Chahal’s regular failures in the t20I series since 2019 compelled the selectors to bring Ashwin back for the world cup. Thus, the decision to prefer Ashwin over Chahal seemed absolutely fine at the time of selection.

But Chahal proved to be impressive in the subsequent second leg of IPL 2021 in UAE, whereas Ashwin hasn’t been able to replicate the same success this time. There have even been passionate and perhaps unreal demands by the Indian fans to replace R Ashwin with Chahal.

This only raises a plausible question. Has R Ashwin bowled that horribly? Should he be replaced? If not, then what should be his actual role in the Indian team? Let’s analyze some key points to find the answers with the World Cup just around the corner.

If we compare Ashwin’s overall numbers in the UAE leg of IPL 2021 to those of IPL 2020, we can see some very contrasting results as presented in the table below.

IPL 2020
30.08 23.54 7.67
2nd LEG OF IPL 2021 4 39.25 32.75 7.19

The higher average and strike rate suggest that he hasn’t been able to pick wickets in the most desired manner. But the issue is much more complex than what these numbers suggest. To have a better idea of his effectiveness, let’s dive slightly deeper and see how he has performed against RHBs and LHBs in both these seasons. The table drawn below shows the comparison of Ashwin’s performances against right-handed batters (RHBs) and left-handed batters (LHBs) in IPL 2020 and the second phase of IPL 2021.

IPL 2020IPL 2021 (2nd phase)IPL 2020IPL 2021 (2nd phase)

The stats presented above signify that his performance has been below par against the RHBs in UAE this season, but it’s really good against LHBs as it was in IPL 2020. It has just been unfortunate that he hasn’t bowled as many overs as he would have liked to the LHBs.   

India are scheduled to play four out of their five league matches in Dubai, where Ashwin has picked 11 wickets at an outstanding economy of 6.59. Further, he had an average of mere 17.4 and an unreal economy rate of 5.27 against the left-handed batters at this particular venue in IPL 2020.

All these facts indicate that he loves bowling to the LHBs more than the RHBs and Dubai has been a happy-hunting ground for this spin maestro of India.

Replacing Ashwin by Chahal won’t be a logical move due to two reasons. Firstly, It seems that the Indian think-tank has gone with Ashwin as a specialist for left handers, which is quite appreciable as the other options, viz. Varun Chakravarthy, Axar Patel, Rahul Chahar and Ravindra Jadeja would primarily love RHBs in front of them. Further, they have already selected him having some plans in mind, which shouldn’t be modified just prior to the tournament. If you have prepared some plan and assigned a player a particular role, then you should back that player to perform that role. 

In the current scenario, Varun Chakravarthy seems to be the best option to lead the Indian spin unit in the world cup. The Chennai-born has picked 16 wickets at an outstanding economy of 6.40 (the best by any Indian bowler selected for the world cup). Ravindra Jadeja is almost certain in the XI due to his much-improved finishing abilities with the bat. Therefore, we can expect Ashwin to be the third spinner if India wants to go with three spinners in any game. He can be used particularly against the LHBs and thus might play a very crucial role in dismantling the LHB-heavy batting lineups at any stage of the tournament.

Saying Ashwin prefers LHBs more doesn’t mean at all that he can’t bowl to the RHBs. He has so many variations such as the carrom ball, the slider, the straighter one to operate against the right-handed batters. Also, he bowls some decent leg breaks these days. Thus, Ashwin is a complete package if we talk about the variations. Further, his experience of playing the shortest format is second to none. He doesn’t need some games to settle his nerves in this big event and can be brought into the side straightaway as a great matchup for the LHBs of the opposition at any stage of the tournament. Therefore, we can certainly expect the legend to bamboozle many batters with his variations yet again.

Can he put all his success and experience into this world cup, which is just a few hours away?