It was during the 2015 World Cup Down Under that off-spinner R Ashwin rediscovered himself. Playing a key role in India’s run to the semi-finals, he picked up 14 wickets in eight games.
His revival had a lot to do with going back to the basics of off-spin bowling.
Ashwin was varying his pace, flight and trajectory unlike earlier, when he depended on varieties like leg-spin, round-arm flatter delivery and the carom ball.
After World Cup, India played mostly in the subcontinent (Zimbabwe tour being the exception) and Ashwin excelled, capping it with a stunning haul in the South Africa Test series.
However, gaps have again begun to show in Ashwin’s bowling during India’s current tour of Australia.
Critics have always raised concerns over his effectiveness overseas, as there is a huge difference in his averages ‘away’ and ‘at home’. His performance in the current series may provide fodder to the critics again.
Ashwin has played seven ODIs against Australia Down Under and picked up just four wickets. When the search engine throws up an average of 91, you get confused if it is some batsman’s figures or Ashwin’s bowling statistic.
The off-spinner hasn’t played too many ODIs recently, having missed the recent home series against South Africa due to an injury. Skipper MS Dhoni had made it clear that he was a bowler short during that series.
Now, however, Dhoni has Ashwin back but the spinner is up against a quality opposition that has conditioned itself well at playing quality spin in its backyard.
While the wickets in the first two ODIs in Australia have been flat and batting-friendly, the spinners haven’t helped matters. Despite the bigger Australian grounds, Ashwin has gone for more than six an over twice.
Ashwin has been unable to devise a plan. Nor has he been accurate with line. At Perth, he was cut on the off for boundaries while bowling a flatter trajectory and quicker through the air. With the pitch providing ample pace to hit through the line, the spinners were putting oil to fire by pushing through the air. It not only reduced the chance of getting any turn from the wicket but also affected the line. Same happened in Brisbane.
Ashwin, though, had troubled many a team in the World Cup with his simple approach which seems to be missing here. Glenn Maxwell, a part-timer, showed how simple things can work in such conditions. His six overs for 33 in Brisbane were important in the context of the game.
Without helpful tracks, Ravindra Jadeja provides almost no challenge to the opposition. The Australians have been dispatching him with the angle. When the spinners fail, no target looks too big for the opposition as they manage to keep wickets intact.
Despite India getting 300-plus scores in both the games, skipper Dhoni has been denied by his experienced bowlers. Only Barinder Sran seems to be bowling with a plan. Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav have conceded 134 runs in 20 overs. Both these pacers bowled well in the Delhi Test against South Africa. But on Friday, they were hit all over the park. Yadav can clock miles but accuracy is missing and hence he is being plundered for runs.
Although the batsmen have managed 20-30 runs less, a 300-plus total should still be good enough for the spinners to defend. It seems neither the spinners nor the pacers have come out of their Indian sojourn. A leaf out of the World Cup book could well be the way forward.