Ravichandran Ashwin bowls during a practice session on the eve of their second one-day international cricket match against Sri Lanka in Hambantota, Sri Lanka. AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe
Almost unconsciously, Ravichandran Ashwin rolled over his left arm, to bowl a delivery at an unoccupied batting net on Monday, as the India players slogged it out in the heat ahead of the second one-day international against England.
If the off-spinner was being weighed down by the tedium, it was understandable. In the first ODI at Rajkot, the consensus was that pacer Ishant Sharma was the bowling villain after conceding 33 in his last two overs.
But Ashwin had already expressed helplessness by then, with his stop-start tactic in his delivery stride. If the idea was to put the batsman off balance, it didn’t work on that belter of a pitch.
In the end, he returned unflattering figures of none for 61. And the fact that he did not complete his quota — skipper MS Dhoni gave him nine overs — told a bit about the current state of the player regarded as India’s lead spinner.
“The tactic is okay if used sparingly, but it is no longer a tactic if the bowler uses it that often,” a former India spinner, who did not want to be identified, told Hindustan Times as he analysed Ashwin’s current predicament.
The 26-year-old Chennai bowler is a thoughtful and articulate man and made an early impact in all formats.
To his advantage, he also plays under the India skipper in the Indian Premier League (IPL), which can only help Dhoni understand him better.
He took 22 wickets in the home series against the West Indies at the end of 2011, but the Australia tour showed up the man who succeeded Harbhajan Singh.
The tag as India’s lead spinner sits rather tenuously after his average show against England in the Tests. Experts faulted everything, from a defensive middle-and-leg line to a lack of enough revolutions in the delivery. “Often, at the international level, it is more the mind than technique. A lot of people
can teach technique, but it is important someone talks to him. The off-stump line is the more aggressive, attacking line. But to get that right in a match, one has to make it a habit by bowling to a 6-3 field at training,” the former India spinner added.
Although Dhoni combatively defended his demand for result-oriented turning pitches even if the opposition won, the home skipper was let down by the spinners finishing second best to Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar.
In Rajkot, Ravindra Jadeja’s left-arm spin was far more economical. And the off-spinner who took a wicket was Suresh Raina, conceding just 18 runs in five overs. On Monday, seven players came early to do strength work and bowl in the nets. Raina was there with Ashwin, Ashok Dinda, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant, Amit Mishra and Shami Ahmed.
So, will a different Ashwin turn up in Kochi? “To be effective, it is important 75 percent of his deliveries are stock balls. Variations should only be a surprise. Otherwise, they will become predictable.”
While England have been clearly ahead in pace, they are also winning the spin battles. Alastair Cook was asked the unthinkable question, whether the visitors had out-performed the India spinners. Cook preferred to nuance his reply.
“I wouldn’t say that, but obviously our spinners have done well,” he said. “In the Test series, Monty and Swanny proved what quality bowlers they are, and in that first one-dayer we had Tredders (Tredwell), who has been around a while. It just proves that the experience you gain in county cricket can bode well in international cricket. “Let’s not get too carried away. We enjoyed the other night because we won. But it’s a game of fine margins.” India know they can’t afford to let that margin widen.