Out of the 60 New Zealand wickets to have fallen in this Test series, 41 were taken by R Ashwin (27 wickets) and Ravindra Jadeja (14). In four Tests against South Africa last year, the pair accounted for 54 (Ashwin 31, Jadeja 23) out of 70 wickets. Before that, during the four-match Test series against Australia in 2013, they snared 53 (Ashwin 29, Jadeja 24) wickets together.
Spinners do well at home. Going by the consistency with which Ashwin has been dominating, and if Jadeja adapts his bowling by bringing in a few variations, India might finally have an inseparable spin pair who can be equally significant overseas too.
Away from the subcontinent, Ashwin averages over 42 in 13 Tests and Jadeja a shade below 42 in eight games. One reason for Ashwin not performing well on foreign soil is his inconsistency in sticking to his stock ball. And rarely does he vary his speeds. But, with the off-spinner showing intent in recent times to vary not just speeds but also the line and length as per the conditions as well as the batsmen he is bowling to, things can only be better next time India tours.
Jadeja’s bowling speed, with which he bamboozles batsmen in India, becomes his own enemy abroad as it comes nicely off the pitch. But as far as home conditions are concerned, both Ashwin and Jadeja have been phenomenal.
Adaptability at home
Against New Zealand, Ashwin adapted well to each of the three very different pitches to deservedly pick 27 wickets at a staggering average of 17.77 while Jadeja had 14 to his name.
In Kanpur, on a slow turner, Ashwin added yards to his deliveries to make the ball turn sharply off the wicket. He reduced his speed a little at Kolkata in the first innings as the ball kicked and jumped. In the second innings, Ashwin again added pace behind his deliveries and changed his seam position a little to dupe New Zealand.
And when the real test came in Indore on a consistent wicket, Ashwin knew the trick was to reduce the speed and bowl up. Jadeja wasn’t as crafty. He continued bowling at a consistent pace which helped the visitors to target him well.
A look at the respective speed charts would add a perspective. In the entire Test series, Jadeja bowled between 55mph to 61mph at an average. Ashwin’s speed map resembled an ECG chart. In Kanpur, he ranged between 51-57mph, in Kolkata it was 52-58 while at Indore, Ashwin’s had a mix of both.
In the first innings, when the pitch was truer in bounce, he reduced his speed and bowled between 50-55mph. But as the game reached the fourth day when the pitch started offering square turn, Ashwin took his speed up to 67mph.
“I was struggling to find rhythm at the start but I am happy I could bowl in rhythm at Indore. I was reaching the crease faster and that is why my alignment was getting better,” said Ashwin.
As an off-spinner, momentum is key. Even if you reach the crease faster, you could be able to reduce the pace of the ball. With Ashwin, he needs momentum to play with pace. If he reaches slow, and tries to fire in a delivery, it lands short. But when his approach is completed, he could play with his deliveries.
The New Zealanders showed adaptability too and Kane Williamson and Co. were quick to make some changes. In the first two Tests, they realised the importance of playing on the back foot on slow tracks, and employed sweep to make runs. But Ashwin improvised and kept troubling the visitors.
“I saw him (Williamson) playing me fully stretched at Chennai in the last series. So my plan was to make him play outside off. He went on the back foot Kanpur but I knew he would stretch at Indore. Happy that I succeeded in getting him,” Ashwin added.
Ashwin’s change in pace left Williamson in doubt whether that the ball would turn or not. The spinner scalped Williamson four times in the series after winning that mental chess game. Ashwin troubled the entire New Zealand line-up throughout the series because he was proactive in adapting to the changing approach of the opposing batsmen.
Jadeja’s is a different case. It is difficult for him to vary his speed because of his action. A little side arm, it adds pace to his deliveries. And that plays a major role in his success. On slow turners, the quicker pace helps his deliveries to go straight or break sharply. But on true pitches, Jadeja struggles because he is unable to deceive the batsmen with loop and drift.
Having seen Ashwin pick wickets, Jadeja tried slowing down at Indore. But he could no longer continue as he landed a little up and was getting hit for runs. At the same time, his usual stuff wasn’t working in Indore. So he had to reduce his pace to get two wickets. Both BJ Watling and Mitchell Santner were sent home with deliveries which deceived them completely.
Jadeja was at his best in the second innings though. He fired in deliveries to Martin Guptill and trapped him. Later, he arrowed in one more at Jimmy Neesham and urged him to play in the air at mid-wicket. The speed of both the deliveries was in the high 80s (kmph).
That is the difference between Ashwin and Jadeja. Jadeja’s average might be slightly better than that of Ashwin but the latter’s ability will always help him pick more wickets in different conditions.
Jadeja has enjoyed success only in India because of the turners and struggled outside. Once he starts reading the pitch better, he can adjust more easily, something Ashwin showed in this year’s Test series in the Caribbean where he ended with 17 wickets.
One of India’s long-term plans — and not just this home season where pitches might be spin-friendly — should be to establish Ashwin and Jadeja as an all-season pair who can offer varying services on varying pitches.
In India, they should be unstoppable. But outside the subcontinent is where the true test lies. Even Ashwin is yet to get a taste of success in England, South Africa and New Zealand so there is plenty of work to be put in by both spinners.
Neither Ashwin nor Jadeja can be expected to take five-wicket hauls at will outside India where pacers might get more assistance. But if they can chip in with one or two of the top order batsmen or run through the tail, it would be equally appreciated.
A bonus would be their batting. Ashwin has already established himself as No.6. If Jadeja — who has three triple centuries in Ranji Trophy — can get a few more big knocks under his belt, India could soon boast a pair that would be an asset on any pitch throughout the year.