Ashwin throws down the gauntlet

Ashwin throws down the gauntlet

TUNING IT AROUND: R Ashwin won the first round with a seven-wicket haul in the first Test. AFP

India may have lost the opening Test in heart-breaking fashion but one of the major takeaways from that thrilling game was the performance of R Ashwin. The off-spinner, who endured a miserable tour of England in 2014 and has often come a cropper in unhelpful non-Asian conditions, threw down the gauntlet in impressive manner.

Not only did he dismiss former England skipper and opener Alastair Cook twice in the match — both dismissals almost an action replay of each other with the ball deceiving the batsman wickedly in the air — he ended up with a match haul of 7/121, a performance that would have given him a major confidence boost for the next four Tests.

An engineer by qualification, Ashwin actually laid the groundwork for this series last year. Aware that another poor away outing could allow the critics a chance to further sharpen their knives, the 31-year-old turned up for Worcestershire for the County Championship after recovering from sports hernia.

He picked up 20 wickets in four games that played a key role in Worcestershire gaining promotion to Division One but more importantly he learnt how to perfect his craft in conditions that suit swing and seam more than spin. He realised he had to bowl a tad faster and make slight adjustments to his grip in order to give more revolutions to the ball.

“When I came here for county stint last year, one thing I realised was the speed at which spinners have to bowl here,” revealed Ashwin during a chat with “Wickets are extremely slow, even on the first day. You can have a bit of bounce but if the pace is not right, the batsmen get a lot of time to play the same ball on the front or the back foot. That's something I realised very quickly when I came here.”

The county stint was a great learning experience for the Chennai-based bowler not in just in terms of skills and knowing the conditions but also in understanding the batsmen's approach and the dynamics of the Duke ball.

"Personally there were quite a few learnings (sic) from my stint here. Not just in terms of pure skill but also how the game is being read here, how players go about their business in terms of pacing out their innings, how much the Duke’s ball does in the first 40 overs, etc. Those are the learnings (sic) I had and as a spinner I feel the ball is definitely different to Kookaburra and SG.

"I think Duke’s is number one, Kookaburra is second, and SG is number three on the list (of spinner’s preference) where it stands today. And how wide my grip can be, how close I can get to it as the ball moves on and I felt like the ball was slipping also when I came last time for Worcester. So that was also in my mind when I came this time," Ashwin explained.

A carefree approach, the tall spinner emphasised, has also helped his bowling.

"I have just decided to enjoy my cricket and stop reading about anything," he said. "I think that’s a good way to fire myself up. My personal experience in the last 59 Tests has been the same and it is not going to be any different moving forward because as the game comes to an end I find myself at the end of the same circle. And the circle moves back to the starting point. I will ideally keep myself to the same starting point to keep the circle going," he remarked.

Ashwin’s predecessor Harbhajan Singh, on commentary duty here, praised the Tamil Nadu bowler for going the extra mile in pursuit of excellence. “The key in these conditions is change of pace. You have to have that drop on the ball to get it to jump. It’s great whatever he has done. He is a very intelligent bowler who understands his game. It's great that he has worked that out and he's delivering here from the first game.”

Ashwin has made the right start to the series. He, however, needs to sustain it over the course of the series to make a statement that he can be an all-weather bowler.