TO say that Ravichandran Ashwin has been on a roll of late might be an understatement. Since the 2015 World Cup Down Under, the off-spinner has not only been India’s best bowler across all formats, he’s also emerged as an out-and-out match-winner with the ball. To his credit, Ashwin’s kept his form going in 2015, right through the tours of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and has started off well against the might of the South Africans.
Despite India going down 2-0 in the three-match T20 series, Ashwin remained skipper MS Dhoni’s go-to man and the only real bowler to make an impact on the Proteas with figures of 1/26 and 3/24. The fact that he did so, on wickets in Dharamsala and Cuttack, which were hard and bouncy and not traditionally Indian-like, only went to show how far his bowling has come in the last 10 or so months.
It was an indicator of how Ashwin has emerged from being a mystery spinner with a lot of variety to an orthodox off-spinner with a lot of wicket-taking deliveries. A lot of theories have floated around trying to explain the secret behind Ashwin’s consistent success this year. But nothing has helped him more than his new-found penchant to bowl slower in the air, even when there are some of the biggest hitters of the cricket ball at the other end, like has been the case over the last week. Getting AB de Villiers out on both occasions he’s bowled to him has been the icing on the cake. In addition to dismissing him, Ashwin has also out-thought and outsmarted the South African batting genius, which in itself is a testament to his growing reputation.
And he will hope to continuing holding his own against South Africa’s ODI skipper in the five-match ODI series, starting with the opening match at Kanpur’s Green Park Oval. More so, considering that the 29-year-old will play the 100th ODI on Sunday. In both T20s, Ashwin’s strategy to de Villiers has been pretty straightforward. Give the ball air, and invite the right-hander to play expansive shots.
If de Villiers is known for his audacity with the bat, then Ashwin has been equally audacious in his fearless approach. His dismissal of de Villiers in the first T20 was a classic example of how a spinner can deceive a batsman by slowing down his pace.
This despite de Villiers having stepped out and whacked him towards the mid-wicket fence off the previous delivery. But Ashwin anticipated that the Protea batting mainstay would come for him again. So he slowed down his pace slightly more, and on this occasion, de Villiers wasn’t quite to the pitch of the ball resulting in the ball slipping past and castling him.
In the second game at Cuttack, more than reducing the speed, it was Ashwin’s high-arm action, which worked for him. He also slightly straightened his wrist position to slip in a top-spinner even as de Villiers stood waiting for an off-break. Ashwin also ensured that his opponent wasn’t to the pitch of the ball, and got him bowled again, this time in dramatic fashion. When asked about his issues against Ashwin, de Villiers chose to play it down, blaming himself for getting out rather than singing his nemesis’ praises.
“He is a very good bowler. But I don’t think he got me out in either of the games. I got myself out in both the games. When you face technical flaws against a bowler, then you have to worry about your game. But that was not the case. I was looking to dominate. Last game I got a bit lazy, played for spin when there was not a lot of it. There is nothing to worry about,” he said.
Though his dismissals of de Villiers have really stood out, Ashwin has also got the better of South Africa’s other high-profile batting stars and captains, Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla. Du Plessis for one looked keen on launching a counterattack against Ashwin, and hit him for 10 runs off just three deliveries. He tried his luck again, and paid the price, being deceived by Ashwin slowing down his pace yet again and only managing to scoop the ball to a deep mid-off.
His scalp of Amla at Cuttack, meanwhile, proved Ashwin’s versatility since he got him with the new-ball.
Operating with a shiny new-ball isn’t easy for any spinner as the ball hardly gets any friction off the surface, thus making it difficult for him to get the ball to grip. But with skipper Dhoni setting up a leg slip for Amla, the idea was clear. Even though the ball was expectedly skidding, Ashwin once again gave the ball extra air. Amla expected it to come straight but it surprised him and spun off the track. In the process, it clipped the inner edge of his bat and offered leg-slip an easy catch. All of Ashwin’s four dismissals in the T20s were of deliveries that ranged between 80-85 kmph, speeds which force batsmen to force the issue.
What Ashwin has done cleverly is mixing up his pace, and not being predictable. And we should expect him to be successful in the ODIs as well. The new fielding restrictions, which allow an extra fielder out, should help India’s premier spinner stick to his guns rather than worry about stalling one end up, and as a result, he should expect to be among the wickets.
India vs South Africa 1st ODI: Live on Star Sports 1, 9am