Spinning a success story

Spinning a success story

By the end of the opening Test at the Adelaide Oval in December last, it had been established beyond reasonable doubt that playing Karn Sharma, a rookie leg-spinner, ahead of R Ashwin was a blunder.

Even as Aussie off-spinner Nathan Lyon claimed 12 wickets for the match on a wearing surface, Ashwin watched on in frustration from the benches and made his displeasure subtly known in the press dos he attended during the course of the four-Test series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. It was a tailor-made wicket for Ashwin with plenty of turn and appreciable bounce in the pitch, the twin aspects that would have made him a difficult costumer to handle.

Just over two months after India went down fighting in that opening match, Ashwin was back playing at the same venue but only the settings were different -- coloured clothing and limited overs cricket. Virat Kohli may have been the man of the match for his hundred in India’s opening World Cup match against Pakistan, but Ashwin was the man of the moment as he stifled the chase with his tidy spells alloyed with no less guile.

Ashwin did extract considerable turn but the extra bounce in the wicket that only accentuated because of his tall frame, made him almost unplayable as he reeled off three maiden overs in his eight overs. The Chennai bowler had only one wicket to show for for his effort but he had managed to keep up the pressure that the pacemen had created on the Pakistani batsmen with his miserly first spell.        

Ashwin has been accused, fairly or unfairly, of trying too many variations without the desired results. While he has steadfastly defended his approach to his bowling, against Pakistan he sparingly used the carrom ball and instead relied more on the classical off-spin. It’s a template, he has maintained through the tournament – tossing, turning and teasing the batsmen to their doom. He is the second highest wicket-taker for India with 11 sticks from five matches and his economy rate of 3.89 runs per over has been outstanding.  

The difference can be attributed to his attacking mind-set. Where in the past he has tried to contain the batsmen, here he has shown the heart of a millionaire wherein he is willing to bargain wickets for a few boundaries. Another crucial aspect that has helped Ashwin bowl the way he likes to is the brilliant work by the pacemen upfront. He has invariably come into bowl with the opposition on the back foot and he has beautifully pried on their uncertainty.   

“I think it's huge in the sense if you get a couple of wickets up front, then the entire game turns on its head,” Ashwin reflected. “As far as the spinner is concerned, when I come in, I've got that little bit more freedom. Having said that, I just made up my mind that I'm going to bowl this way the entire tournament. There are times when I prepare for such big tournaments as to what I'm going to be doing. Come what may, I'll try to execute it, and that is one of the reasons that I've come out to express myself in any of these major tournaments. I like the big stage, and I like to assume I like to do it my own way,” he explained.

Though the offie admitted that he has been benefitted from the good work by the quicks at the start, he also showed that he can stand-up and be counted when the going isn’t good for the pacemen like in the game against Ireland on Tuesday.

“Ashwin, obviously, he's someone that I always love to have and the reason being I always pushed him to bowl in the power plays and even have used him whenever I'm in difficult situations,” pointed out MS Dhoni after the Ireland game where Ashwin provided the first breakthrough after the rival batsmen had sped to 60/0 in the first 10 overs. “He is really confident about his bowling and he understands his bowling well. I believe he has learned a lot in the last few foreign tours. The good thing with him is he keeps improving himself. Every time he's part of the series, he sees the challenges and accordingly he improves. So it's obviously good to have him, and it's good to see him bowl really well.”

While Ashwin’s numbers in Tests rival the best in the business that ply his trade, his ODI record is no less impressive. For someone who has 131 scalps from 93 games at a fine economy rate of 4.85, he is strangely underrated and even undermined at times.

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