It was in November 2017 that India off-spinner R Ashwin created history by becoming the quickest bowler to pick up 300 wickets in Tests. The achievement capped off two years of consistent match-winning performances that saw the Virat Kohli-led outfit trample oppositions, especially during India’s long and incredibly successful home season.
Yes, the record came at a time when there were question marks over Ashwin’s career as a white ball bowler. By the time he reached the landmark, four months had passed since his last appearance in an ODI. But, despite the pivot made by the think-tank of the Indian team towards wrist spin in the shorter formats, Ashwin remained at the forefront of India’s bowling attack in Tests. His ability to bat with confidence lower down the order only highlighted his worth as a cricketer.
However, despite his all-round ability, Ashwin for some reason seems to be steadily losing favour with the powers that be. After being dropped from the scheme of things in limited-overs cricket, the 31-year-old’s unprecedented achievements were conveniently ignored as India’s international and domestic cricketers were accorded a raise as part of a new revised contract and compensation structure.
The Committee Of Administrators comprising Vinod Rai and Diana Edulji along with Chief Executive Officer Rahul Johri met with senior members of the Indian team - Kohli, MS Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and coach Ravi Shastri before devising at a formula. As part of this new system a new slab, namely “A+ category” has been created to reward “pure excellence”.
Rai revealed that the decision to introduce a new A+ category was taken after suggestions from Kohli and Dhoni.
“They wanted a category of pure excellence where you perform and you are rewarded. And hence the players would not occupy a permanent slot in this category because if you don’t perform then you slip down the order,” Rai said.
The senior national selection committee was, then, assigned the role to pick names for each of these categories. Skipper Kohli, Rohit, opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have been made a part of this “elite” A+ category.
“Their logic was this category would have only players featuring in all three formats, players who are in the top-10 rankings,” Rai said.
Another snub for Ashwin
Out of the “elite” five, only Bhuvneshwar is not in the top-10 rankings in any format. But, one cannot begrudge him a place in the top category.
But surprisingly enough, Ashwin had to make do with the A category, a rung below where he shares space with Ravindra Jadeja, both of whom are in the top-10 of the ICC Test bowlers rankings. The duo was at the centre of India’s incredible Test run at home in 2016 and 2017. The spell saw India dominate the likes of South Africa, England, New Zealand and defeat Australia. The pair of Ashwin and Jadeja led India’s charge in this period. Ashwin in particular was the wrecker-in-chief of each batting line-up that made its way to the middle.
During the course of this rich vein of form, Ashwin broke records like he was gobbling up breakfast - just a routine affair. If that is not counted as pure excellence then what else is?
It wouldn’t too far to say the latest snub matches the pattern of disrespect that has been meted out to the off-spinner in the recent past by the think-tank of the Indian team.
It was halfway through last year that Ashwin and Jadeja were unceremoniously ‘rested’ from the limited-overs squad of the Indian team. They have not had a chance to don the blue jersey for India since. Despite the setback, both continue to perform in the five-day game. Ashwin’s four-wicket haul, taken in Centurion during the second Test during India’s recently-concluded tour of South Africa, was testament to the mastery of skills as a spinner.
Jadeja, currently occupies the third spot the Test bowlers rankings, while he is placed second among all-rounders in the longest format.
The decision to not consider them for a place in the A+ category does seem baffling, especially since one of the spot is being occupied by 23-year-old Jasprit Bumrah, who has played just three Tests and Rohit - another player who is by no means a Test regular.
While his performances across formats have been impressive, the decision to promote him straight to the top category seems a bit premature, considering that he has yet to make a dent in the longest format.
If one were to argue that Ashwin’s success as a spinner came on familiar wickets at home, so did most of the runs scored by Kohli, Rohit and Dhawan that have earned them the right to be considered A+ worthy.
Men’s contract structure
- Grade A+ (Rs7 crore, new category): Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shikhar Dhawan.
- Grade A (Rs5 crore, previously Rs2 cr): Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni, Wriddhiman Saha.
- Grade B (Rs3 crore, previously Rs1 cr): KL Rahul, Umesh Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Hardik Pandya, Ishant Sharma, Dinesh Karthik.
- Grade C (Rs1 cr, previously Rs50 lakh): Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey, Axar Patel, Karun Nair, Suresh Raina, Parthiv Patel, Jayant Yadav.