Certainly, England skipper Joe Root wouldn’t be shocked to see Ashwin making his first appearance of the series in the upcoming fourth Test.
“His record speaks for itself, he is a world-class player,” the England captain said on Tuesday in a video call. “We have seen him score runs and take wickets against us, we know what he is capable of in the test arena.
“We’ll certainly be making sure we are prepared for the challenges he poses coming into this test match.”
Ashwin would be coming in pretty cold. Indeed, he has played only twice since April 25 — in the world test championship final against New Zealand, which took place in England in June and saw him take two wickets on the cheap in each innings, and for Surrey in an English county championship match against Somerset, when he took 6-27 in the second innings. Tellingly, that was played at the Oval.
But he definitely is ready. On Thursday, which was the second day of the third Test at Headingley, Ashwin tweeted a photo of himself batting left-handed in the nets, alongside the words: “The desire to ignite something different every day never burns out.”
He’ll hope Kohli adopts that mantra. If he does, Ashwin would either join Jadeja as a second spin option, or replace Jadeja if he is carrying any discomfort from a slip in the field at Headingley that saw him have to go off briefly with a knee injury on day two. He played on for the rest of the match but posted a photo of himself on Instagram in hospital on Saturday, saying: “Not a good place to be at.”
The Oval has earned a reputation of late for being a pitch that is helpful to spinners, especially deep into a match. It might be hard for Kohli to go without Ashwin.
As for England, Root might be inclined to keep everything the same after a near-perfect performance at Headingley, with the under-pressure batting lineup scoring more than 400 for the first time this series and a depleted bowling attack stepping up in the absence of key players such as Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood and Chris Woakes, not forgetting all-rounder Ben Stokes.
Ollie Robinson, in particular, was the standout paceman with his match-clinching haul of 5-65 in the second innings. He was ably assisted by Craig Overton, who was recalled in place of the injured Wood and contributed three wickets in each innings and also a knock of 32 with the bat.
England’s pace resources are plentiful, with Root having a dilemma given Woakes and Wood are back in the squad after injury. It just might be the opportunity for England to rest the 39-year-old James Anderson, who has played in each of the first three tests and would desperately want to play in the fifth, on his home ground of Old Trafford.
England will definitely back one change. Jos Buttler is not available so he can attend the birth of his second child — he might also miss out in Manchester — so Jonny Bairstow will take the gloves and either Dan Lawrence or Ollie Pope will come into the lineup at No. 5.
“You come off a win like last week and there’s continuity of confidence and trying to replicate a similar performance,” Root said, “but you’re trying to balance that and make sure you don’t blow someone out and injure someone.
“It’s really tricky and something we’ll have to weigh up really well and get right.”