India's famously passionate cricket fans have turned on their side after a controversial move to drop Ravi Ashwin against Australia on day one of the World Test Championship (WTC) final. The Aussies took control of the Test showpiece at The Oval, with an incredible unbeaten stand from Travis Head (146 not out) and Steve Smith (95 not out) guiding them to an imposing 3-327 at stumps on the opening day.
However, India will perhaps be regretting the decision to leave out veteran spinner Ashwin - the No.1 ranked bowler in Test cricket. The eye-opening move took the cricket world by shock before play got underway, with India looking at the green wicket and overcast conditions in London, before opting to go in with a four-pronged pace attack, and all-rounder Ravi Jadeja as their sole spinning option.
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Ashwin has for so long proved Australia's tormentor-in-chief with 114 wickets at 28.36 apiece, with regular success against a left-hander dominated top order. He and Jadeja were the chief tormentors in the most recent series at home to the Australians - albeit on starkly different pitches in the subcontinent.
India's bold move to drop the world's highest ranked bowler looked to have been an inspired one as they made the most of the swing and bounce to claim three wickets in the opening session. Aussie opener Usman Khawaja perished for a duck to Mohammed Siraj, before David Warner was removed for a solid 43, having belted Umesh Yadav for 16 runs off one over.
After a promising start and closing in on a fifty though, Warner gloved a short ball down legside from Shardul Thakur and was out just before lunch. Marnus Labuschagne followed soon after when bowled for 26 by Mohammed Shami, after copping a painful morning blow to the thumb off Siraj that has since been cleared of causing damage.
However, that's about as good as it got for India as Head ands Smith navigated a short, but tricky period to get to lunch, before taking the game away from India in the final two sessions. Head's display in particular will no doubt strike fear in the England side ahead of the Ashes as he became the first player in history to score a century in a WTC final. More than that slice of history, it was the manner in which Head scored his runs that really took the eye.
Head again scored at a rapid rate with another counter-attacking hundred after arriving at 3-76. He brought up his ton in just 106 balls, highlighting once again his ability to score at an incredible rate for Test cricket.
Ravi Ashwin gamble backfires for India
By stumps, Head and Smith looked fully in control, with India's pace attack appearing weary after a trying opening day. With only Jadeja providing spin support to ease the workload on the quicks, the gamble of leaving Ashwin out looks to have been a particularly costly one for India.
"It's always a very difficult decision to drop a champion bowler like that," conceded Paras Mhambrey, India's former Test seamer who's now their bowling coach. "But looking at the (cool) conditions in the morning, I thought having the additional seamer would definitely be beneficial - and it also has worked in the past.
"If you look at the earlier games that we played - the last Test match we went in with four seamers, which really did well. The seamers have done well out here for us but you can always look at the hindsight, saying additional spinner would have been a different."
The workload on the Indian fast bowlers appeared to have taken its toll come the last session as Head and Smith punished them mercilessly in an unbroken 251-run partnership. India fans were quick to convey their displeasure over the axing of Ashwin, with many labelling the move "disgraceful" and "insane".
It’s a disgrace to not see Ashwin playing in the WTC Final.
Our best wicket taker, that too in the best spin friendly pitch in England with also 4 left-handers in opposite side.
I don’t know what are they even thinking???#WTC2023 #WTCFinal
— Ishan Inani (@theishaninani) June 7, 2023
Never really understood what Jadeja brings with the ball outside the dust bowls of India! Ashwin is a far more skilled operator in all surfaces! What a disgraceful selection blunder! #WTCFinal #AUSvIND
— Rahul (@rahveee) June 7, 2023
Umesh Yadav in the place of R Ashwin??? What a pathetic decision.
— Hari (@imHari_R) June 7, 2023
Leaving out Ashwin is insane. What he has to do now more than being Rank 1, to be included in the national side?
— Vimal Singh Rathore (@vimal8rathore) June 7, 2023
I wonder what was Rahul Dravid thinking! when they decided not to play R ASHWIN in the playing 11! it's heart break for Indian fans! and Australians are delighted!
— krunall vadavale (@Krunall4441) June 7, 2023
Not playing Ashwin in the test team is a crime. You can’t win a test with mediocre medium pacers no matter what pitch is !!
— iamurshadow (@tweetreal2020) June 7, 2023
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