India left out R Ashwin for the fourth consecutive Test match against England in the ongoing series.
The ace off-spinner, who is only one of the three Indian spinners to have taken over 400 Test wickets, was seen warming at The Oval prior to the start of the Test but was kept out.
What makes the decision surprising is that England have four left-handers in their line-up — including three who are known for their batting. Ashwin has an impeccable record against left-handers. Out of the 413 Test wickets he has taken, 211 are left-handers.
“They are not playing an extra batsman. They are playing five bowlers and still not playing R Ashwin. That is surprising,” said former India pace bowler Ajit Agarkar on Thursday.
The Oval pitch is generally more spin-friendly than any other in England. Indian bowling coach Bharat Arun had hinted on Tuesday that the team might play both spinners only if the pitch aids spin bowlers.
However, it seems that the tinge of green on the surface discouraged the team management from playing two spinners and field only one in Ravindra Jadeja.
Jadeja was promoted to No. 5 in the batting line-up ahead of Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant.
“It depends on the conditions. Depends on so many other things, the wicket, the conditions and all these things. Ashwin, no doubt, is one of the best bowlers we have. But it is unfortunate he has not played so far. But if there is an opportunity and if we feel that he is going to fit into the scheme of things, they definitely would both be bowling in tandem,” Arun had said on Tuesday.
“History at [The] Oval says it will take spin but you also know how the Englishmen are wary of Ashwin’s abilities and what he could do if there is any little assistance from the track. I think the most realistic option would be to look at the track tomorrow morning. Because anything can happen from now to tomorrow. We will look at the track from now to tomorrow morning and decide,” Arun had added.
It is quite clear that the pitch did not have much for the spinners.