Perception. Nothing changes as quickly as this phenomenon. One good knock, a fine spell or a series and boom, old opinions go for a walk in the park. The same Ravichandran Ashwin, who not many even wanted in the SENA Tests, is now the most wanted not only for Tests but across formats.
After India were compelled to not play even one specialist spinner in the third ODI, and it was not only due to the conditions but also how poorly Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav had fared recently. The calls for Ashwin’s comeback in the ODI set-up also started taking the center stage. R Ashwin had a bumper Test season. He picked up 44 wickets in seven Tests at 18.56. He was bowling like an incarnation of the god in England Tests. The same Ashwin who wouldn't have even played in all the Australia Tests if not for the injury to Ravindra Jadeja, not only proved himself Down Under but how.
The same Ashwin whose record in SENA was questioned over and again, is now not only a confirmed starter in Tests across countries and conditions, which is fair as well, but he also became a one-stop solution to India's spin woes in white-ball cricket, for the public at large. Just in a matter of a few months. And a bucket load of red-ball wickets. Recency bias and mixing up formats is certainly not new and influences opinions like none else. No denying the fact that R Ashwin is an enticing option but there is a need to explore the other side of the story as well. And, today we shall do that.
For anyone playing non-stop international cricket across formats and IPL is a herculean task. The Tamil Nadu spinner is five and a half months short of turning 35 and isn't on the right side of age. So, it would be even harder on his body. Right now, India need a premier spinner in ODIs, who can play regularly. But with Ashwin, being an integral part of the Test side, especially after sealing his place in SENA Tests, it will take a toll on his body to manage the workload and might even put him at risk for Tests, which India wouldn’t want at any cost.
Ashwin's tryst with injuries is well documented. Be it the 2018 England Tests, or the 2018/19 and 2020/21 Australia series, he has got injured in the mid-way through the series and has shown fragility. In fact, back in time, Sourav Ganguly had gone on to say that, "Ashwin can't be the premier spinner and get injured so many times on big tours." So, putting him under the rigors of different formats at a time when he is closing in on 35, will be like playing with fire. The off-spinner will be over 37 by the time the 2023 World Cup approaches, so it will be a short-sighted move to get him back in 50-overs cricket.
Also, his inclusion in ODIs isn't all sunshine and rainbows. India right now need an aggressive wicket-taking option. Ravindra Jadeja has already sealed his place in white-ball cricket as a defensive spinner and a very good power-hitter. And playing two finger spinners in 50-overs cricket with four fielders outside 30 yards in middle-overs will be quite defensive and there will be a lack of variety in the spin department. In addition, there isn't much to suggest that an off-spinner will have a telling impact given the recent trends in ODIs.
Only two offies make it to the list of leading wicket-takers among spinners from the top nine ODI nations and their strike-rate isn't among the best with leg-spinners dominating, mostly. Finger-spinners' strike-rate is on the higher side.
However, Ashwin stands a more realistic chance of making it to the shortest format as the T20 World Cup will be played this year in India and the Men in Blue might well look for an immediate fix. But in the T20 side as well, either of Jadeja/Sundar will start with only room for an attacking spinner, who can get wickets.
The last two IPL seasons have been considered Ashwin's best in a long time with him showing ample improvement. However, all he has taken have been 28 scalps in 29 games. He has had great control though with an economy rate of 7.46. His strike-rate has been 22.7. As well as Ashwin bowled in the IPL 2020, only three times, did he take two wickets or more out of 15 games. Now, let's contrast it with the other spin options that India have at their disposal - Yuzvendra Chahal, Rahul Chahar and Varun Chakravarthy.
Chahal has a phenomenal record in the IPL and his strike-rate of 16.4 alongside an ER of 7.38 stands out.
Rahul Chahar, who recently played against England and represents Mumbai Indians, has a marginally better strike-rate and economy rate than R Ashwin.
Varun Chakravarthy hardly played a game in 2019 IPL wicket but he was a sensation last season and was among wickets. All of Ashwin's competitors already have a better strike-rate and fit the role of a wicket-taking spinner perfectly. Chahar, only marginally, but Chahal and Chakravarthy are far ahead and have great numbers in comparison to Ashwin.
Yuzvendra Chahal has struggled in T20Is recently but having said that, Ashwin is yet to show his wicket-taking prowess in IPL, which has been a major criteria for Indian selections. And if he isn't even able to strike it regularly in the IPL, there isn't much to suggest that he will be an immediate fix for India's T20I woes.
Ashwin, in the first place, was dropped precisely for this reason. Not being able to take wickets in the middle-overs. Without proving that he can do, there are minimal chances of his comeback, at least, for the place he's fighting for in the team. Now, only if he has a glorious IPL season this year, that he comes into the reckoning again.
Not like last year, when three Indian spinners took more wickets than him having played similar numbers of games or even less. As for the recency bias and the thunder that he has at the moment, perceptions would again change once a Chahal has a 20-wicket season or a Chahar does well in the IPL. Only wickets would do, which he lacks right now, with the white-ball.