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Ravichandran Ashwin – Then and Now

December 1, 2015


If you need to talk about a quality off spinner, there are a few attributes that you want him to have: turning the ball, extracting bounce off the pitch, getting the ball to drift in the air and drop fuller onto the batsman inviting him to drive and most importantly to have a plenty of variations to work with. Four years ago Ravichandran Ashwin exhibited almost all such traits while claiming 22 wickets and the man of the series award in his test debut against West Indies. In the last four years at least four pillars of the Indian Test Team have bid goodbye to test cricket while the off spinner from Tamilnadu has taken over the job responsibilities. He has stretched his dream run of this calendar year right till the very end. 55 test wickets including the 24 in the ongoing series versus the mighty Proteas with a match to spare has left everyone at the edge of their seats.

However, somewhere in between his dream debut and dream form of recent times there also was the phase which every cricketer has to go through. Though not many, but there were games where he had to sit out. One can’t judge the real character of a player when he is on the top of his game, but it is judged with the way how he hits back after being boldly criticised. That’s where I believe he did exceptionally well and that’s actually what has developed him from a bowler who, at home, can leave his opponents high and dry; to the one who can also win his team tests overseas.

So let me take you back to the days when Ashwin looked to be more like a mediocre spinner so that you can understand how well he has done to have come this far today.

Ashwin preferred bowling more with the hard new SG ball having a pronounced seam that allows the ball to grip on the surface. But when it comes to a Kookaburra ball, that grip factor almost gets nullified due to its weaker seam. Moreover if the pitches are the hard like those in Australia and South Africa, in order to buy out something off it you have to put a lot more revolution on your bowling, which he didn’t have at that stage.

The next thing that happened to him, one can’t blame him too much for that. In the shorter formats with runs on the board captains demand economical spells from his bowlers more than the breakthroughs. So the bowlers these days only try to contain the batsmen waiting for them to make mistakes rather than compelling them to commit any. So Ashwin also started bowling quicker through the air in attempt of hitting the deck rather than releasing the ball. As a result his trajectory got flatter and speeds got higher. He used to drift down the pads of the batsmen instead of bowling the aggressive off stump line. In addition to that he kept bowling the carrom ball more often than required, thereby reducing its effectiveness. And suddenly all these started to draw an adverse impact on his test career.

But again, like I said, everyone has to go through this phase after spending a year or two at the international circuit since your weak points gets revealed to your opponents with the available technology. So you have to go back to the drawing board again to make some adjustments having kept the basics same. And being one of those highly disciplined cricketers of the team who is the first to reach the practice ground and the last to leave, it was just a matter of time that he gets himself going again. He spent hours bowling under the nets to redevelop his bowling muscles. And that’s what it takes – the more you bowl, the better you control the ball; and the better you control the ball, the more are your chances of getting wickets.

One of the main reasons behind Ashwin’s recent success is the application of weapons. He has worked well with his stock ball, i.e. the natural off spinner and also with his variations. Moreover he is a wiser bowler now who knows when to go for which option. Obviously trying six different things in six balls is not the greatest of choices. It doesn’t allow a bowler to get into his rhythm. This is something what he suffered from in the past. But now he knows that he can set the batsman up with his ploy, make him play one way and suddenly have a Doosra going the other way or a surprise straight ball on a turning track. These might be not more than once in 7 or 8 balls, but that one ball bears a high percentage of trapping the batsman. That’s what a planned dismissal is all about having said that it takes some skill along with accuracy to do the same.

There are certain things that he can do but most of his peers can’t. With the pairing of his decent height to his high-arm action he enjoys a greater bounce off the surface. With the seam of the most of his deliveries being slanted slightly towards fine leg causing the ball to land partially on seam and partially on leather gets the ball to grip as well as spin and that’s where the bounce comes in to play, so do the close-in fielders.

Another thing that separates Ravichandran Ashwin from the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra is that the Ashwin deceives the batsmen with flight, whereas the other two try to exploit the pitch. It’s a good time for Team India nevertheless to play the all three spinners in tandem. Ashwin is enjoying a good hand of support from his spin partners which also offers the captain to have a little more flexibility in his bowling department. Since they are different types of bowlers it will never be easy for a batsman to re-tune himself in succession with all three bowling in short spells.

Perhaps the biggest positive that has happened to Ravi Ashwin is that now he gets into the business almost in no time at all and can sustain his quality spin bowling over a prolonged period of time. As a spinner if something can prolong your test career, more than anything else it is the ability of bowling long tireless spells of good quality under the heat. So now Ashwin has the skills, he has got the experience as well, he has also won the confidence of his captain, the nation’s support and a grand stage to perform – it’s time to make it count.


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