Ashwin: Mystery man to mainstay

Off-spinner’s rise from heir-apparent to the leader of India’s spin attack has occurred swifter

Written by Devendra Pandey | Hambantota | Published: July 24, 2012 12:11:04 am

If you can look past the nerdy exterior,there are a number of giveaways in his demeanour that divulge Ravichandran Ashwin’s innate pugnacity. There is the brutish scowl that is directed at every batsman guilty of scoring a boundary off his bowling. There’s the brouhaha in his wicket celebrations.

And Ashwin’s most poignant characteristic,the eagerness to take up any challenge that skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni throws up at him — regardless of whether he’s sporting the canary yellow of Chennai Super Kings or Team India’s blue — be it bowling in the powerplay or the death overs.

The 25-year-old Tamil Nadu off-spinner’s rise from heir-apparent to the leader of India’s spin attack might have occurred more swiftly than most expected,around eight months ago. And ever since,apart from the obvious added responsibility,Ashwin has had to deal with being under the scanner constantly. Not to forget,the perennial comparisons with his beleaguered predecessor,Harbhajan Singh.

Despite not having broken free from the question marks regarding his calibre,the big-built tweaker has never let his performances dip below par. More importantly,he’s not let it dampen his competitive spirit.

Seal the spin deal

While Dhoni & Co will look forward to wresting complete control of the five-match ODI series with an encore performance on Tuesday; for Ashwin,the second ODI — his 26th since he took over from Harbhajan — will be his umpteenth shot at asserting himself as India’s lead spin bowler.

True to form,Ashwin insists on having relished the responsibility of being the kingpin of the slow-bowling department in Dhoni’s ODI outfit. The combativeness comes through again when he says,“As a lead spinner,I try and think as a leader. When I have 60 balls,I just go with the mind-set that I will do well. I’m prepared to get hit. If I can get three-four dot balls in then I am fine with conceding a boundary because that enhances my chances of picking up a wicket.”

Post India’s successful 2011 World Cup campaign,Ashwin has picked up 35 wickets in 27 ODIs – two of which he played alongside Harbhajan in the Caribbean. In that time,he has been India’s most successful bowler in the 50-over format. And his stand-out feature as always has been an economy rate of 4.80. His returns across all formats,despite being satisfactory,haven’t quite been earth-shattering. The ground-breaking spell has somehow eluded Ashwin. But he admits to have gained immense experience from having played on a variety of wickets in the past 12 months – ranging from England to Australia .

“The last one year has been the most challenging phase for Indian cricket and for me. I bowled in places like Australia and I think I did reasonably well there. Down Under,bowlers didn’t get too much help so it was challenging for us. It has been a great learning curve so far,” says Ashwin.

Ashwin’s tendency to experiment incessantly with his variety of deliveries has always caught the eye of his detractors. And even a number of experts who have called for him being more patient so as to sustain himself as a lead spin bowler. The exposure on the international stage,and skipper Dhoni’s confidence in his abilities have,claims Ashwin,helped him understand his bowling much better. Veteran Virender Sehwag for one believes that the offie has matured significantly thanks to his exploits in the IPL.

Relentless pressure

Both his wickets at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium on Saturday came as a result of the constant pressure he managed to maintain on the Lankan batsmen. Opener Upul Tharanga was dismissed while trying to force the pace after Ashwin had bowled four dot-balls to him,while Lahiru Thirimanne fell prey to the bowler’s wily variations-the carrom-ball. “Bowling to some of the best batsmen in the world has helped me in maturing as a spinner,” he adds.

With India set to play a majority of their cricket in the subcontinent in the coming six months,Ashwin is aware that the burden on him is only set to increase. The onus hence will be on him to establish his reputation as India’s chief spin exponent. But he insists that he will be sticking to his guns in that quest.

“I have never focused only on holding my place in the Indian team. Rather,I have just tried my best to perform. I always think about myself as a performer,” he adds.

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