The stage is set for a blockbuster World Test Championship (WTC) final between India and Australia starting at the Oval on Wednesday, June 7. The second edition of the competition will see India contest for the coveted mace, having missed out a couple of years ago. Australia, meanwhile, are taking part in their first WTC final.
Both teams have played out some epics in recent times and know what it's like to face the other, having fought for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy earlier this year in India. The hosts came up trumps by a 2-1 margin to secure their berth in the WTC final, with Australia managing to do so themselves owing to their win in the Indore Test.
It goes without saying that Rohit Sharma and Co. have a couple of tough selection questions to answer though and right at the top of that list is the choice between Ravichandran Ashwin and Shardul Thakur.
Recent trends have seen them prefer Thakur as a fourth seamer who can chip in with the bat at the No. 8 spot in overseas Tests. The last time India toured England in 2021 (and the rescheduled fifth Test in 2022), Ashwin didn't play a game with the visitors opting for a four-man pace attack.
Should they stick to the same policy for the WTC final? Here's a look into a few factors as we try to draw a conclusion on who between Ashwin and Thakur ought to get the nod.
Ravichandran Ashwin vs Shardul Thakur - who has a better record in England?
Taking their primary role of bowling into consideration, both Ashwin and Thakur have fared well in England.
The ace off-spinner has snared 18 wickets in seven Tests so far at a healthy average of 28.11 and a strike rate of 66.7.
This is to go with an excellent record in the County Championship for Worcestershire, Nottinghamshire, and Surrey. In fact, he played a lone game for Surrey ahead of the series against England in 2021 and returned with figures of 6/27 at the Oval to bowl Somerset out for 69 in the second innings.
While Thakur has been a touch expensive, he has bagged eight wickets in three Tests in England at an average of 33.37 and a strike rate of 50.2. His numbers took a severe hit after the Edgbaston Test against England last year when Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow razed down 378 without breaking a sweat.
That said, the seamer from Mumbai has fond memories of the Oval, having scored twin half-centuries to play a massive role in India clinching a stellar come-from-behind win in 2021.
He averages 24.40 with the bat in five innings in England while Ashwin averages 23.72 in seven innings in this part of the world with a best of 46 not out.
Thus, there's not much to pick between the two players as far as their performance in England is concerned, although, in terms of control with the ball, Ashwin holds a slight edge.
Ashwin and Thakur's record against Australia
The sample size is vastly different as far as the number of Tests Ashwin and Thakur have played is concerned. While the former has played 22 Tests against Australia alone, Thakur has only played eight matches in all in the longest format.
The Mumbai seamer's lone appearance against Australia came in the historic Gabba Test in 2021, where he picked up seven wickets across two innings and struck a monumental 67 in the first innings without which India's triumph wouldn't have been possible.
As for Ashwin, he simply loves facing the Aussies, with a stellar record at home and an admirable record Down Under in conditions that generally don't favor right-arm off-spin.
He is India's all-time leading wicket-taker in Tests against Australia with 114 scalps in 22 Tests at an average of 28.36. Ashwin also averages 17.51 with the bat against the Aussies with two half-centuries to his name.
Clearly, the sample size favors Ashwin for the WTC final and while it's hard to draw a definitive conclusion owing to this factor, his experience certainly outweighs that of Thakur.
Other key factors
There are a few other aspects for the Indian team management to consider while making this choice ahead of the WTC final.
For starters, conditions at the Oval are generally good for batting and tend to offer something for the spinners as the game progresses. This gives Ashwin the edge, as does the presence of a number of left-handed batters in the Australian ranks is bound to bring him into play.
Another important factor is that the WTC final will be played with the Dukes ball. While it does tend to offer more swing which could favor Thakur, Ashwin has succeeded with it as his numbers in England show and hence, playing him won't be a bad ploy to that end.
Keeping everything in mind, it makes sense for India to pick Ashwin ahead of Thakur and go for a three-man seam attack alone for the WTC final.
That said, it won't be as straightforward a decision given that they've often picked Thakur on a horse-for-course basis. Should conditions warrant a fourth seamer, there is every chance that he could pip the off-spinner in the playing XI again.
Who should India pick between Ravichandran Ashwin and Shardul Thakur for the WTC final against Australia? Have your say in the comments section below!
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