Updated: November 5, 2021 1:04:25 pm
“He doesn’t use the off-spin much. He is defensive.”
Barely had Ravichandran Ashwin began his T20 comeback after a break of four years, commentators started to observe the same old thing they used to say for years.
He doesn’t. And he won’t. And he will be “defensive”. Ashwin has often talked about his T20 approach on his YouTube channel. Pressure created through tight lines and different deliveries, and the variation kicking in not to lure a batsman into a big shot but to defeat an intended big shot. “Defensive”, in other terms.
Not always, but usually. The off-spin does come out like the delivery he has scalped Rohit Sharma with in the Indian Premier League. But on the main, Ashwin will flick, side-arm, slide-out from between the forefinger and thumb, switch angles, jump to the side of the crease. And he will use his reverse-carrom-ball that he now seems to have tamed to make it work according to his wish.
It’s quite a lovely delivery and helped him take out Gulbadin Naib in the game against Afghanistan.
The back-spinning carrom ball swerved in through the air, the backspin curving the ball into the right-handed Naib, who missed his sweep and was caught in front of the stumps. The batsman had a hopeful look across at his partner: ‘wasn’t it the carrom ball and would have missed the stumps?’ It wasn’t. In Ashwinspeak, it was the reverse-carrom that he first used in 2019 and has been using frequently since. It drifts in sharply into the right-hander and veers away from the left-hander.
Ashwin started to use it because he felt batsmen were picking his finger-flicking carrom balls. So, he chose to deceive them with this weapon. “Usually seeing the way it comes out of my hand, the (right-handed) batsman started to set up to play it to the off-side. But now I have tried to get the ball to drift into the batsmen,” he had told Sky Sports.
Ashwin has brought in his own little tweaks into the delivery that Sri Lanka’s Sachitra Senanayake used to deploy to great effect. Senanayake’s delivery was the benchmark in this regard. With his crooked action, which eventually got him banned, the swerve in the air was more pronounced.
Ashwin shifts the position of the seam to create different angles. In the ball that got Naib, we can see the seam proud and pointing towards leg-slip. He can occasionally scramble it around and get the ball to skid in quicker. Against left-handers, he goes around the stumps and try for the dream delivery that starts in with the angle but drifts away a bit. It’s quite a beautiful sight when he manages that.
The carrom ball used to be flicked from the front of the hand but this is flicked from underneath, imparting backspin.
The backspin works furiously on the ball and helps it swing – the same mechanics that swing bowlers use.
“It goes underneath. More of a back-flipper, it gives the drift away from the left-hander or into the right-hander. I also go underneath the seam for it to straighten a bit at times. If the wicket is aiding enough turn, that ball would be lethal,” Ashwin has said.
Depending on the seam position, he obtains different degrees of inward movement. At times, it’s towards leg-slip, as it was for the ball that accounted for Naib. At times, he scrambles the seam more and this one doesn’t swing in as much, but can skid on quicker. And as Ashwin says, he deliberately tries to straighten it at times.
It’s a beautiful ball really. Ajantha Mendis could finger-flick it into the right-handed batsmen occasionally, but it was more of a seam-in delivery. It was Senanayake who used to deploy it with great effect. Now he has other problems, after it was reported that he offered Dhammika Prasad 30,000 dollars to fix in a Lanka Premier League game. Until the rot set in, Senanayake’s ‘reverse carrom’ was quite a beastly delivery.
Pakistan’s left-arm spinner Imad Wasim has a deadly inswinger to right-handed batsmen but that’s delivered with the forefinger on the seam, and the back-spin kicking in. Wasim uses it often in the initial overs, inside the Powerplay, before he resorts to more traditional varieties in his later spells. Wasim’s delivery swings in nicely with that wide left-armer’s angle and he bowls it at quite a good pace too, so not many batsmen have attacked it yet. Ashwin tries that ball too, but it seems an inherently better ball when it comes from the left-armer. Daniel Vettori used that to great effect. Ashwin’s reverse-carrom-ball has powered his T20 arsenal and is probably one of the reasons for his comeback into the Indian team.
Observers might cringe and crib, but Ashwin the “defensive” bowler will be the one on show in T20s.
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