Ashwin needs to change his approach

Cricket India in Australia: Off-spinner hasnt lived up to expectations

R Ashwin might have landed in Australia with the confidence of an emperor who has completed his world-conquering mission after his stupendous debut series against the West Indies, in which he had taken 22 wickets from three Tests, scored a hundred and grabbed the man of the series award.

at batsmen’s mercy: After an impressive Test debut at home against the West Indies last year, offie R Ashwin has found the going tough in Australia. AFP

All Australia had to show at that stage were a crop of inexperienced batsmen, a skipper learning his job, and two senior players struggling for runs. But since then, that seemingly scruffy unit has dented Ashwin’s perfect world several times, teaching him the need to constantly improve his craft to stay ahead of the competition.

Like many sportspersons going through a lean patch, Ashwin too tried to find a straw of positive. “I am quite happy with the way I am bowling, and satisfied with how the ball is getting released from my hand during this series,” he had said during the Adelaide Test.
Ashwin might have released the ball to copybook perfection, but Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey will offer different descriptions of what happened after that.

In Sydney and Adelaide, Ashwin had brilliant chances to exploit the early inroads made by his quicker colleagues, but he frittered the advantage away, often drifting to the pads of Clarke, Ponting and Hussey, all working his meek offerings to the on-side to pick up easy runs.

That Ashwin was on a constant hunt for wickets too didn’t help his cause. In his hurry for instant results, the Chennai man overused the carrom ball, and eventually his line became predictable.

However, there was a glimpse of what Ashwin could have done more often on this trip during the first Test at Melbourne. In the 50th over of the second Australian innings, Ashwin had done well to draw Hussey out of the crease, forcing him to drive a well-flighted delivery, though Rahul Dravid’s drop at first slip spoiled that splendid over.

Unfortunately, Ashwin never travelled that route often, as there were hardly any other instances of him trying to lure the batsmen into drive, and forcing them to edge to slips for the rest of the series that ended on a rather disappointing note at nine wickets at 62.77 apeice.

He might have been a relieved man going into the second leg of the tour, consisting two T20s and the tri-series for they have been the formats in which he consistently excelled in the past. But the beginning has been anything but promising.

Ashwin had bowled eight overs in two T20s, conceding 57 runs for one wicket, while in the first one-dayer against Australia on Sunday he leaked 48 runs from five overs, and there was nothing to show in return.

Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni handed the ball to his premier spinner with great hope after Praveen Kumar and R Vinay Kumar kept the Australians manacled during a brilliant first spell. Ashwin’s job was to keep the run-flow in check but he faltered, wilting first against Matthew Wade and then against Mike and David Hussey.

He kept bowling short on the leg-stump to Wade and the Husseys, and the ball kept disappearing into the deserted arc between mid-on and square leg. The ones pitched short on the off-stump were cut easily past the point fielder.

It was quite disappointing to see Ashwin continue to operate in the same way as he did in Tests. Strangely, Ashwin seemed incapable of doing anything different to keep the batsmen under check, as there simply was no urge to fight back – a trait he often showed in the past when batsmen took him on.

Dhoni came to Ashwin’s defence. “It’s very difficult. At times, bowlers don't bowl well. It has an effect on everyone. He is a good bowler and he has done well in the past. But then, it's his first series in Australia.

“He is still getting used to it, especially with the white ball and the bounce of the wicket. If you bowl a loose delivery here, more often than not you would be scored off. It could be playing on his mind,” Dhoni explained. However, he missed the point that Ashwin has already played three Tests in Australia, and also he’s not exactly a stranger to bowling with the white ball in limited-overs cricket.

Ashwin still has a lot of time for redemption. But he needs to be patient, and concentrate more on the traditional strengths of an off-spinner.

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