London: The main talking point on the opening day of the World Test Championship Final was the Indian bowling combination and the fact that India preferred to drop off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin despite the presence of many left-handed batters in the Australian line-up.
It was argued by many that India could have gone ahead with their best five bowlers, even if that meant three pacers and two spinners, and included Ashwin unmindful of the apparent conditions.
The pitch, which looked green, assisted the seamers for the first hour or so but turned flatter later in the day and the Australians capitalised on that and with Travis Head (batting on 146) and Steve Smith (batting on 95) taking full advantage of a lacklustre Indian bowling line-up to stitch a mammoth 251-run unbeaten stand for the fourth wicket to put Australia in the driver’s seat as they reached 327/3 at the stumps on Day 1.
Experts felt that a world-class bowler like Ashwin could have been more effective against Head. Ravindra Jadeja, the lone spinner in the five-man bowling unit, bowled 14 overs for 48 runs without any success.
India bowling coach Paras Mhambrey, however, defended their decision and said considering the conditions, India was right to go with an extra pacer.
“See, it’s always a very difficult decision to drop a champion bowler like that. But I thought looking at the conditions in the morning, I thought having the additional seamer would definitely be beneficial. And it 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 went well. The seamers have done well out here for us,” Mhambrey said during the end-of-the-day press conference at The Oval Wednesday.
“You can always look at it in hindsight, saying additional spinner would have been different. But looking at the conditions in the morning, I thought an additional seamer would definitely be helpful,” said the former India pacer.
He conceded that the decision to leave Ashwin out was a difficult one and was thoroughly discussed between the team management and was also with the bowler himself.
“I think when you discuss with the team, not only on the first day, but you know the conditions for quite some time. We have been practicing for 3-4 days. We are looking at the wicket, how it is. I think that conversation happens with the player. Obviously, we have to be honest about our strategies. The player is very important. But your combination is also important. So, you discuss which combination should be played on the wicket,” said Mhambrey.
He said Ashwin understood that the decision was taken for the team’s benefit and in terms of combination and the wicket.
“Yes, he (Ashwin) is a world-class bowler. Definitely, no doubt about it. But I think when we have a conversation, the player also understands that if a decision is taken, it is taken for the team’s benefit. Looking at the combination in terms of the wicket,” he added.
He admitted that maybe sometime later after the match, they may get to realise that they should have gone ahead with two spinners, Mhambrey said the players would understand why that decision was taken.
“I think it will happen. Somewhere after the game, you realize that you could have played with two spinners. That will happen. But I think the conversation is honest. And the player understands that if a decision is taken, then why that decision has been taken,” he said.
Mhambrey was confident that India will make a comeback in the match on the second morning.
“Yes, why not? I thought conditions today obviously, like the wicket, it was better. But the second new ball that we took, we saw that the ball was seaming a little, cutting a little bit. So, definitely, tomorrow morning will be an important session for us. If we take a few wickets quickly, then definitely we have an opportunity to come back in the game,” he added