Being the senior spinner in the squad and the presence of a plethora of left-handers in the South Africa batting line-up perhaps got India’s Ravichandran Ashwin the nod ahead of Axar Patel on a seamers’ pitch and in cold weather conditions in the ICC T20 World Cup game at the Perth Stadium on Sunday night.
India ended up losing the game to South Africa who perched themselves on top of the Super 12 Group 2 league table displacing India after that victory.
Both Ashwin and Axar were fielded in the game against the Netherlands on October 27 at the more spin-friendly Sydney Cricket Ground and played their part in the comprehensive victory for India by 56 runs.
Left-arm spinner Axar picked up 2 for 18 after deceiving Max O’Dowd with a perfectly-directed arm ball. He later added the scalp of Bas de Leede. He sent back two out of the top-three Netherlands batters.
Off-spinner Ashwin also picked up two wickets giving away 21 runs and both his victims, two down batter Colin Ackermann and number five Tom Cooper, were taken out in the space of four balls.
Both spinners were effective in unsettling the Netherlands top order and their strikes within the first 13 overs, along with the first blow by Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, helped India halt the progress of the Dutch at 123 for 9. India crossed the target easily.
Earlier, in the high-profile opening game against Pakistan at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Axar was hit for 21 runs in one over, mainly by Iftikhar Ahmed who struck him for three sixes, and he was not given another over by skipper Rohit Sharma.
Ashwin, too, did not pick up a single wicket although he was used to finish three out of four in the two spinners’ combined four-over aggregate by Rohit.
In the aftermath of the victory by South Africa on Sunday night, a question that crops up is whether Axar would have been a more preferred choice to Ashwin who takes the ball away from the left-handers when he chooses to bowl his stock ball, the off break, rather than his patented carom ball.
Ashwin was targeted by the South African batters as he appeared to be the weak link in the Indian attack on a seam-friendly track. And both Aiden Markram and David Miller did that in style to force Ashwin concede 41 runs in his four overs, the highest he has given away in his 62-match-old T20 International career.
Markram commented in his post-match press conference that Ashwin was specifically targeted by him and Miller.
“Yeah, it was a discussion we had at the drinks break to pick one of the bowlers. We expected them to take on Keshav (Maharaj of South Africa). I’m sure they expected us to take on Ashwin as well because the seamers were so difficult to get away because of the nature of the wicket,” said Markram.
“So it almost got to a stage where we had to target someone because they bowled so well initially. It got to the stage where we had to pick someone. It could be anyone on any night. And sometimes you execute. Sometimes you don’t.
“But you pick those matchups according to who you’re most comfortable against on the night. You get to different conditions and those matchups would change completely,” he explained.
Another debatable point was in Rohit opting to bat first on winning the toss. He did the same at the SCG where too India’s game was played after the first one at the same venue and on the same pitch between South Africa and Bangladesh.
Markram insisted that the pitch behaviour remained the same throughout the match.
“Toss wise, I’m not sure what would have been good to do first. But just for being out there and for the better of the game I didn’t feel like the pitch changed in any way. I thought it was bouncing and nipping around when we bowled and when they bowled. I think we also would have batted first,” he added.
However, India, of late, have chased better than setting a target. When they play against Bangladesh at the Adelaide Oval on November 2, perhaps they will prefer to chase if Rohit’s luck with the toss continues.
There were a couple of more decisions that mattered, like the continued exclusion of Rishabh Pant from the playing eleven and the move to leave out leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal from the first three matches so far.
These things could change for the crucial game against Bangladesh.