It’s time Ashwin let the ball do the talking

Ashwin had completed an ODI series,where he had gone for 169 runs in 168 balls.

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Benoni | Published: December 14, 2013 4:08:55 am

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 it’s difficult to fathom the kind of day he’s had in office,especially if it’s 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 wouldn’t want to recall with great pride. You couldn’t 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 wouldn’t go down without a fight come the Tests. Somehow you couldn’t 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 didn’t sound convincing enough coming from him.

Persistence and patience,or a lack of it when things haven’t gone his way,has after all always been Ashwin’s downfall. Just like has been the case ever since he landed in South Africa. While you wouldn’t question his gumption for a challenge,the off-spinner’s 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 didn’t 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 wasn’t deterred from throwing the ball up and using the strong drift,but his lines and lengths just weren’t 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 didn’t have much of an answer to de Kock’s nimble foot-work. He wasn’t 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 India’s 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 Ashwin’s 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 didn’t concede too many boundaries,there was always the stray single or two on offer as Ashwin either drifted down the batsman’s 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 he’s thrown the ball.

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