It is the 31st over of Australias innings and R Ashwins second in the third ODI at Mohali. Ashwin is bowling around the wicket and has gone for two runs in four balls so far. The fifth ball is a floater,a variation,that swings away from George Bailey,but is short and wide. Bailey cuts it for four. L Sivaramakrishnan and Sunil Gavaskar criticise Ashwin from the commentary box. The former India leg-spinner asks Ashwin to bowl up,while the latter blames his overuse of variations. He is just fine bowling his off-spinners, says Gavaskar.
It is believable that spinners are under immense pressure due to the recent changes enforced in ODIs. With less fielders on the boundary,and the ball harder than before,spinners are seen relying on variations than their stock balls.
Another reason could be that Ashwin has cooled off since his debut. In his first 30 games,Ashwin had taken 46 wickets at an average of 27.45 and strike rate of 34.4. In 31 games after that,his numbers have dropped off a bit,his 37 wickets coming at a poorer average (36.94) and strike rate (44.7).
In the Mohali game,his approach was evident. As soon as he was slogged over long-on or mid-wicket,Ashwin went around the wicket. With the angle taking it away from the right hander and four fielders on the off-side,his stock deliveries were the floater and the carom ball. In the over (31st),he bowled off-spin just twice to Bailey,which were both defended.
Though he may not be confident enough to bowl his off-spinners,the selectors seem to have continued faith in him. It will be interesting to see if Dhoni will go for the other spinner in the squad,Amit Mishra,who enjoyed a good tour of Zimbabwe.
Another option which is no longer possible after the selectors have decided to retain the same squad through the series was Harbhajan Singh. In the CLT20 final against Rajasthan Royals,he was adjudged the Man of the match for his 4/32. The 33-year-old isnt a bad replacement,especially against the Australians,against whom he has traditionally done well. His experience his 650-plus wickets across formats,coming mostly from stock balls bowled over the wicket would also come in handy. Ashwins variations seem,right now,too predictable.
(Siddhartha is a senior correspondent based in New Delhi)firstname.lastname@example.org