Before the Indian team settled down in their dressing room ahead of Monday's warm-up tie against Pakistan, coach Duncan Fletcher took R Ashwin aside for a long chat. Standing next to the glass wall of the team's changing room at the R Premadasa Stadium, the discussion at various times had the two demonstrating wrist position and bowling action to each other.
Later, at the practice too Fletcher spent a lot of time with the off-spinner. The extra attention was deserved, and during the final warm-up game, Ashwin again proved how vital he is to India's scheme of things.
In a bowling unit struggling for options, the lanky spinner has been the consistent performer. Against the Pakistan batting line-up, which regularly faces the world's best offie, Saeed Ajmal, in the nets, Ashwin's four-wicket haul in four overs was remarkable indeed.Vital role
It underlines the importance of Ashwin's role if India are to do well in the World Twenty20. India have been searching for a bowling leader since Anil Kumble quit, and with Harbhajan Singh on the wane, Ashwin is being seen as the one to take over the mantle. His success in Tests at home has only increased the team management's confidence in him.
The Afghan boys are relatively confident of holding their own against the Indian attack, but admit Ashwin will be a different kettle of fish. Seeing his performance in the two warm-up games wouldn't have helped their mood. After his 4-0-20-0 effort in the win over Sri Lanka, Ashwin was at his wily best against Pakistan. When he dived to pluck a one-handed catch off Umar Akmal and reduced the innings to 91 for five, India were on top.
However, lack of support from the other end was glaring. Pakistan batsmen took the likes of Lakshmipathy Balaji, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh to the cleaners. As India start their campaign on Wednesday, their biggest worry is how to bolster the attack, which at the moment looks like a one-man army.
Skipper MS Dhoni was candid. "Yes, bowling has always been a concern, our bowling line-up is slightly weaker than our batting. But we have experienced bowlers who can do the job," he said.
After failing to defend 185 against Pakistan, Dhoni is in a fix over the bowling combination, and Afghanistan will provide him the last opportunity to finalise the right bowling mix.
He indicated that he would stick with his formula of playing three pacers and one spinner for now. "Initially, we would like to go with seven batsmen, but if part-timers are not able to perform, we might have to play with six batsmen and five bowlers."
India's dilemma provides no solace to the Afghanistan batsmen. Skipper Nawroz Mangal admitted playing Ashwin would be the key for his team.
"We have done our homework against him. We have played the likes of Saeed Ajmal and Sunil Narine, and that experience will be useful."