There’s always a sense of self-assurance,almost smugness,about most things that Ravichandran Ashwin does on and off the field that at times its difficult to fathom the kind of day hes had in office,especially if its been a bad one. Thursday in Johannesburg was a great example.
Only the previous day,Ashwin had completed an ODI series,where he had gone for 169 runs in 168 balls and taken a solitary wicket in the bargain,a week that he wouldnt want to recall with great pride. You couldnt have made that out,though,as he insisted that he had achieved whatever he wanted to during the 2-0 drubbing speaking during a media interaction.
It was the combative Ashwin who had turned up,the one that sticks to his guns,even if it means taking that self-confidence a bit too far. Over the next half hour,he would reiterate how he was ready for a ‘fight and that he wouldnt go down without a fight come the Tests. Somehow you couldnt help but believe in his assurance. During the same half-hour,Ashwin also ended up stressing a lot on the significance of being patient as a spinner to experience success in these conditions. On that front,it just didnt sound convincing enough coming from him.
Persistence and patience,or a lack of it when things havent gone his way,has after all always been Ashwins downfall. Just like has been the case ever since he landed in South Africa. While you wouldnt question his gumption for a challenge,the off-spinners major drawback was his inability to put much pressure on any of the home team batsmen,to keep them in check long enough. Only twice during the ODI series did he manage to bowl three straight dot deliveries. While his economy rate didnt make for great reading in the first and third ODIs,rarely did he beat batsmen in the air or through deviation off the wicket.
Not consistent enough
To his credit,he wasnt deterred from throwing the ball up and using the strong drift,but his lines and lengths just werent consistent enough. There were too many release shots on offer for the likes of Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla. At the Wanderers,he was guilty of bowling too short and also giving the batsmen width,providing the South Africans with plenty of scoring opportunities. He was slightly better at Durban where the ball gripped the surface,but again didnt have much of an answer to de Kocks nimble foot-work. He wasnt at his best at Centurion either where AB de Villiers was allowed to get away with hitting him against the turn inside-out.
Come Wednesday,Ashwin will still retain his position as Indias lead spinner in the first Test. It will only be his fourth Test in foreign soil. And he will be desperate to work on his overseas record that presently reads nine wickets at 62.77 and a strike-rate of 115 balls per scalp.
The problems Ashwins faced over here so far are very reminiscent of what he encountered in Australia during the Tests. There too,he was found wanting in terms of keeping the lid on the Aussie batsmen,too often drifting onto the pads or dropping too short. Against him,the Australian top-order scored at close to a strike-rate of 60. More importantly,the dot balls he bowled were far too scattered for him to have a real impact on the likes of Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke. The only batsmen he had some success against was Ed Cowan,who he also tormented during the return series in India. Against the rest,even though he didnt concede too many boundaries,there was always the stray single or two on offer as Ashwin either drifted down the batsmans pads. The issue that propped up again last year when England toured India and he averaged over 50 a wicket.
Having said that,he was only three Tests old when he went Down Under,and does have significantly more experience under his belt as he looks forward to the two Tests against South Africa,where the pitches will again not be in his favour. India will be assured that their lead spinner will be ready for the fight once the umpires call play,but will also hope that Ashwin brings a dose of self-restraint and patience whenever hes thrown the ball.