Australian greats Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting have slammed India's decision to drop premier off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin for the World Test Championship final against Australia.
Ashwin, who is the No. 1 bowler in Test cricket and India's leading wicket-taker in the 2021-23 WTC cycle, was dropped as the Rohit Sharma-led side bolstered the pace ammunition by playing four seamers.
"I feel that Ravichandran Ashwin is such a key factor, the leading wicket taker in the Tests cycle is not there. There are a few factors worth pondering on in Team India's perspective," Hayden told ICC after the day one's proceedings.
In the absence of Ashwin, left-armer Ravindra Jadeja is the sole spinner in the playing XI and he went wicketless as India struggled to break the 251-run partnership between Travis Head (146 batting) and Steve Smith (95 batting).
With Head's blistering century, his first in England, combined with Smith's resolute show Australia took the day one honours with 327/3 on the board.
World Cup-winning captain Ponting termed Ashwin's exclusion a "mistake".
"So far for me, it looks like it was a mistake from them by playing the four seamers, but we will see how the game pans out," Ponting told the ICC.
"As this game goes on, I have got no doubt that there is going to be turn. Australia have got a lot of left-handers in their batting line-up to which Ashwin would have been perfectly suited for," he said, as Ashwin is the most successful bowler in Tests against left-handers.
There was also debate over Rohit's "bowl-first" decision after winning the toss and Hayden said the Indian skipper may have "missed a trick".
"I feel they may have missed a trick at the toss. Even if Pat Cummins said he would have liked to bowled, I secretly think Australia always like to bat first in Tests.
"I feel like Rohit Sharma was caught into thinking that we're going to play the day rather than playing the Test match."
Head — 'modern day Gilchrist'
The day one belonged to the aggressive Head whose 146 came from just 156 deliveries as he counter-attacked the Indian attack as the wicket eased out.
Hayden and Ponting compared Head as to the teammate and legendary wicketkeeper batter Adam Gilchrist after he swung the momentum in Australia's favour in the 'Ultimate Test'.
"It was a classical Travis Head attacking style. One of the things in this Championship cycle is that Head not only scored over 1000 runs but he did at a strike rate of 80-plus," Hayden said
"That's really hard to do when you are playing a tournament of such pressure, and also you are under enormous pressure because of the atmospheric conditions. But he finds a way to get this terrific strike rate.
"He is almost like Adam Gilchrist was in his day, somehow able to put so much pressure on opposition simply because they do not know where to bowl," Hayden added.
Gilchrist had a strike-rate of 81.95 during his illustrious Test career and Head is walking down a similar path having scored at a similar clip during Australia's World Test Championship campaign.
"He probably is (similar to Gilchrist). In fact he is probably scoring quicker now than Gilly probably ever did," Ponting said.
"His strike-rate through this (World Test Championship) qualification period is 81, which is higher than anyone else in the world to have scored more than 500 runs."
Shami and Co erred in their length
Ponting further said India's pacers erred with their length early against Head.
"I think when he first comes in you need to execute perfectly to him. It is no good trying to over attack him because if you bowl any bad ball, he is going to put it away," Ponting noted.
"They will learn by the way they bowled to him in this first innings, and they will definitely adjust in this second innings, but sometimes it is too late."