It's early days in the India team for R Ashwin with just four One-day Internationals to his name. But filling in those huge shoes of someone like Harbhajan Singh, the 24-year-old off-spinner has not disappointed.
The Tamil Nadu bowler returned his best ODI figures of 3 for 50 in the opening match of this series against New Zealand in Guwahati. But what makes his performance with the ball even more impressive is his ability to bowl during the Power Plays and at the death. An economy rate of just 4.76 underscores his miserly prowess.
The experience of bowling when batsmen are looking to attack, especially when fielding restrictions are on, obviously comes from his tryst with the Indian Premier League. He turned out to be Chennai Super Kings skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni's trump card during the third edition of the League when he was often given the new ball.
He bagged 13 wickets with an economy rate of just above 6 runs an over. This puts his performance in perspective: on the list of leading wicket-takers in the last edition of the IPL, which includes the likes of Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble, Ashwin is the most economical.
"I think Ashwin is a quality spinner. He has done a very good job whenever he has got an opportunity. The way he has bowled in Power Plays and slog overs is a great plus for Indian cricket because as an off-spinner, if you can bowl with fielding restrictions, it speaks a lot about your bowling. This is just the start of his career and I hope he performs the same way and plays for a long time for India," Gautam Gambhir, India's stand-in skipper in this series, said after the match in Jaipur on Wednesday.
Ashwin's ground fielding and catching have left a lot to be desired though. He knows that and it was good to see him sweat it out in Guwahati. When asked about the team dropping catches both in Guwahati and Jaipur, where Ashwin had been a culprit, Gambhir said: "We are human beings, we are bound to make mistakes. We can't expect everybody is going to catch everything. We can't expect everyone to have a perfect day, there will be times you end up misfielding, dropping catches."
But the combination India generally play with has three medium-pacers, one spinner and an all-rounder that follow the batsmen. Once Harbhajan is available, that single spinner's spot is occupied. So, despite his good show at the top level, Ashwin has to keep proving himself if he wants to secure a berth in the World Cup squad next February.
McCullum not yet fit for third ODI
PTI adds: New Zealand, struggling to stay alive in the five-match rubber, going into the third ODI here against India on Saturday, are sweating over the availability of injured opener Brendon McCullum for the must-win encounter. "Brendon's condition is being monitored constantly. He's improving," said visiting team's media manager Ellery Tappin, adding nothing can be said on his availability for the third ODI.