As India go into the first Test against West Indies at Antigua, there is one big question hovering over the team. What will be the composition of India's spin bowling attack? This issue wouldn't have been there about a year ago as Ravichandran Ashwin was the unquestioned leader of India's spin bowling battery.
But last year, Ashwin's performances outside the subcontinent were rather disappointing. Thrice, he had an opportunity to bowl India to victory, but failed to do so. What hurt his cause even more was the fact that Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav produced encouraging performances when given a chance to play in the team.
So, is Ashwin likely to sit out of the first match of the West Indies series? If yes, who would take his place in the XI? Is it possible that India may go into the match with two spinners instead of just one? Let's explore these questions by looking at some facts.
Ashwin's record outside India
There is no doubt that Ashwin becomes a fourth of the bowler he normally is when playing away from the subcontinent. His record outside India is: 27 matches, 108 wickets at an average of 31.39 and strike rate of 63.4. This record doesn't look that bad. However, it includes his performances in places like Sri Lanka where spinners tend to be as important as in India.
In both Australia and South Africa, his average is above 45 and strike rate well over 90. In England, the off-spinner has fared better but still has an average over 30 and strike rate around 75. Four of his six 5-wicket hauls outside India have come in the subcontinent.
But there is one twist in the plot. The Chennai lad has enjoyed tremendous success against West Indies, especially in the Caribbean. In the 2016 Test series over there, Ashwin picked up 17 wickets in four matches with one game almost washed out. He had picked up a 7-for in the very first Test of that series.
Overall, the 32-year old has 60 wickets against Windies. But it is not just with the ball that he has enjoyed success. The veteran of 65 Tests has also scored four hundreds while playing against the side from the Caribbean. So, it would be hard to keep Ashwin out of the team with such stats.
But one area where the offie seems to be lacking is fitness. Both in England and Australia, he suffered injuries and couldn't play thereafter. While it is curious that these injuries surfaced after he disappointed with his performances, in a regime where fitness is given utmost importance, Ashwin's lack of it could also be a factor in his selection or non-selection.
But his batting prowess could help him out here. Considering that West Indies are especially vulnerable against spin bowling, India may be tempted to play Ashwin as an all-rounder batting at no. 7. That seems to be the most likely scenario. Then again, with Ravi Shastri's love for wrist spin, Kuldeep Yadav may play as the fifth bowler with four pacers. One thing is clear, Ashwin is no longer an automatic pick outside India.