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With battles won, Ashwin is now in the midst of big war

On Sunday, 25-year-old R Ashwin from Tamil Nadu may face the biggest challenge of his fledgling career. Nikhilesh Bhattacharya reports. Fortnotes

india Updated: Nov 06, 2011 01:27 IST
Nikhilesh Bhattacharya
Nikhilesh Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times

R Ashwin should know a thing or two about playing with the best off-spinners in the business, having teamed up with Muttiah Muralitharan in the IPL and with Harbhajan Singh in limited-over internationals. He also seems to know how to render them obsolete.

When Ashwin supplanted Muralitharan to become Chennai Super Kings' leading off-spinner, the Sri Lankan was nearing the end of his illustrious career, and the rule allowing only four foreigners per side per match would not have helped him. But Ashwin also gave his captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni a new attacking option in T20 cricket: a spinner who could bowl with the new ball inside the Powerplay and take wickets.

His emergence in India's limited-over sides has been backed by similar attacking intent shown while Harbhajan was struggling with injury and poor form. The team management kept faith in the veteran in the World Cup this year, but have since looked increasingly towards the young challenger in limited-over cricket.

Fresh option
Come Sunday, however, the 25-year-old from Tamil Nadu may face the biggest challenge of his fledgling career. Preferred over Harbhajan for the longer version for the first time, he is expected to be one of two debutants in the four-man bowling attack as India look to rebuild their Test team.

The spin attack is likely to be completed by left-armer Pragyan Ojha, who is yet to cement a Test berth. Ishant Sharma and debutant Umesh Yadav are the likely pacers. Dhoni on Saturday played down the inexperience factor.

"The bowlers who will play have played the ODI format, so they have a fair amount of exposure when it comes to international cricket," said Dhoni. That would mean greenhorn Rahul Sharma will have to wait for his debut. The leg-spinner is the only one in the squad who has never played for India in any format. Young paceman Varun Aaron, the other bowler in the squad, made his ODI debut against England last month.

Learning quickly
Former India opener WV Raman, who was the Tamil Nadu coach during Ashwin's emergence in first-class cricket, believes the presence of Dhoni will help the spinner as he enters Test cricket.

"But Ashwin will need to adjust. I expect Dhoni to use him as an attacking weapon, giving him men around the bat instead of an in-and-out field with a lot of protection in the deep," said Raman, who currently coaches Bengal.

"Unlike in limited-over matches, the batsmen will not come at him and Ashwin will not have fielders on the boundary to get away with bad balls. He will have to be as nagging as a gull.

"How well he keeps his concentration and patience going will determine how well he does in Tests," said Raman. And that may well determine how long Harbhajan has to wait for his return to the big league.

First Published: Nov 05, 2011 23:51 IST