“Like they say, whatever spins, I’m sure everything will spin around. It’s only a matter of time I guess…most often than not, Indian cricket is build on perceptions, and I’m sure it will continue.” That was Ravichandran Ashwin’s tongue-in-cheek remark on the ongoing finger spinner versus wrist spinner debate. With his usual flourish, the off-spinner takes a veiled swipe at his critics, saying that everything eventually came down to meeting the flimsy expectations of these ‘experts’. He says that this (perceptions) is something he has been battling ever since he made his international debut.
“For the better part of my first 150 wickets, people kept telling that I was trying too many variations, when deep down I knew that I wasn’t trying any. These are all opinions created by people over which I have no control of,” he explains. Every aspect of his bowling was minutely dissected — from his amble to the crease, to the loading, the point of release and the amount of variations.
Like everything with Ashwin, these statements can also be debated. The criticism wasn’t just about his penchant for trying out different things but it was also about how the changes and constant tinkering to his action had led to its own problems. One of the many experts who have spoken about it in the past involves Sunil Subramaniam who was his coach for a long while, and is currently India’s team manager.
It was a comment made five years back by the man whom Ashwin had earlier dedicated a man-of-series performance against Australia. “Even JP Duminy was getting far more off the pitch than Ashwin in South Africa,’ Subramaniam had said in 2013. “There is no body in his action. He is just bowling from his hands. This guy is putting absolutely no body into his bowling. How can you expect to take wickets? He has lost his way a bit.”
Ashwin had then re-worked the basics of his action to bounce back. It’s something that he has done again and again during his career. In India’s last Test series against England, he had a mixed bag— spectacular performance in the first Test gave away to lacklustre spells later in the series, particularly in a potentially series-deciding fourth Test in Southampton where he couldn’t make use of a wearing track and where he was outbowled by Moeen Ali. There were murmurs about his fitness but coach Ravi Shastri had made it clear that there was no fitness issues. He couldn’t hit the right areas as often as he should have was Shastri’s verdict.
Ashwin has found himself out of the limited overs squad since July 2017. Since then, he has gone down in the pecking order to the wrists and guiles of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. In this interim, even as Ashwin continued to climb the summit as a bowler in the longest format, he looked to add layers of intrigue in his bowling.
Teaming up with old friend
Last year, he teamed up with his long-time friend, Guru Kedarnath, a top-level coach in Chennai, to learn the tricks of bowling leg break, something he used at this year’s IPL. It was in this tournament where he also learnt to bowl the under-cutter from the young Afghanistan spinner Mujeeb-ur-Rahaman. “Apart from the leg-break, I have also learnt the under-cutter, which I picked up from Mujeeb when we were playing together for the Kings XI,” he quips. All this did make him look a tad eager to prove his critics wrong, and the metamorphosis into a complete spinner.
Looking back now, Ashwin says, he doesn’t really care about living to such perceptions anymore. “I really don’t care about it anymore. I just go out and enjoy my game,” he says.
On Monday afternoon at the Kotla, Ashwin did his reputation no harm. Playing for India B in the opening game of the Deodhar Trophy, he prised out two vital scalps — of Shreyas Iyer and Ankush Bains — by resorting to bowling the more prosaic and traditional off-breaks, to finish with figures of 2/39 from 9 overs. But in an ideal world, the 32-year-old would have found himself gearing up for the second ODI against Windies in Visakhapatnam.
Instead, he finds himself toiling away at the Deodhar Trophy. But Ashwin is not complaining. He reckons getting back to the playing domestic cricket, more specifically with the white SG ball has its own tangible positives. “For me, match time is really important, irrespective of the format. Today, I was batting against Varun Aaron who was bowling at 145kmph. Now, that’s quality match time. Before that, I was bowling to Shreyas Iyer and Manoj Tiwary, who are quality players of spin. All this is a chance to test myself,” he says.
The workout Ashwin got at the Kotla will put him in good frame of mind for the rigourous season ahead. If anything, it’s also a gentle reminder to the selectors that he is still very much a force in white ball cricket. Of late, even his one-time partner-in crime, Ravindra Jadeja has fought his way back into the ODI squad after a 14-month hiatus. Jadeja, with his slow left-arm spinners and as a livewire, both as a batsman and fielder, was instrumental in India clinching the Asia Cup. His exploits at the UAE helped him clinch his spot in the ongoing 5-match ODI series against the Windies.
All this does add a bit of pressure on Ashwin, one would think. India still play 17 ODIs in the run-up to the 2019 World Cup. Ashwin, on his part, would be hoping that he still remains central to his team’s plans when the show-piece event kicks off in seven months. Performances like this one at the Kotla today will only bolster his case.