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Ravichandran Ashwin - Getting into his stride

Ravichandran Ashwin was the Man of the Series in the Border-Gavaskar trophy

Who was the most impressive Indian player in the recently concluded Border-Gavaskar series? Quite a few actually. Murali Vijay finally found his footing in the Test arena, Pujara solidified the claims of him being the new “Wall”, Shikhar Dhawan made a dream debut while Ravindra Jadeja elevated himself to the “Rajnikanth” level. However, the man who topped charts with a sensational return to form was Ravinchandran Ashwin.

After a dream debut against the West Indies, Ashwin floundered in Australia. Back home again, he went on to feast on the Kiwis when they toured India last year. He bamboozled them with his variety, became the the quickest Indian to 50 Test wickets and staked his claim as the best spinner in India by edging out the temperamental Sardar. But then England arrived and Ashwin ran into Captain Cook and company. Not only did England dominate India to win the series, the English spinners gave the Indians a lesson on how to use the crumbling dust bowls. Though Pragyan Ojha managed to salvage some pride, Ashwin dished out a below average performance by finishing with just 14 wickets at 52.64 runs per wicket in the series.

The lacklustre show from the tall offie made the claims for the return of Harbhajan Singh stronger. The Turbanator not only made it to the squad against the Aussies, but also had Dhoni opt for him in the Chennai Test along with the home boy. The move of playing two off spinners made sense since Australia’s top order boasted of four left-handers. However, it was also a move that kept Ashwin under pressure.

Though most experts blamed his lack of penetration on his over usage of the carrom ball, in reality Ashwin had quite a few things to work on. Since his rise has been largely attributed to the IPL, Ashwin has always excelled in stifling the runs for the opposition. In the limited overs format, he has used his variety and accuracy to ebb the run flow effectively, that often led to the batsmen throwing away their wickets. Even in his first few series against the Windies and New Zealand, the batsmen weren’t adept to handle his carrom ball and found it difficult to cope.

England, though, was a different kettle of fish altogether. They were more prepared and had better quality batsmen. If Cook swept him off his line, Pietersen and Bell danced down the track to upset his length.  The runs leaked, the close in fielders moved away and Ashwin switched on his T20 mode. He moved away from the conventional off-break and brought his variations into play. He undercut the ball to have more control instead of giving it a rip. He shifted his line of attack from around the stumps and fired the ball into the right-handers’ pads, thus waiting for the batsmen to make mistakes rather than deceiving them with his guile.

However, the Australia series saw a remarkable change in the Tamil Nadu tweaker. The new pair of yellow sun glasses sparkled brightly while Ashwin choked the Aussies to a dusty death. He ended the series with 29 wickets at 20.10 in four Tests, deservingly collecting the Man of the Series award for his efforts. He not only picked up wickets a strike rate of a wicket every 8.4 overs, but also was a miser with an economy of 2.41 runs per over.

How did he turn it around in this series?

Simple, he got his basics in place and learnt from his mistakes. The line went back to outside the off stump and the variations were used judiciously. He made the batsmen play more and used the flight to good effect. He tossed it up above the eye line of the batsmen and lured them into making mistakes. If the flight foxed the batsmen in playing false shots, the dip and drift caught them in two minds. The action was seamless without the “pause”, the rhythm looked sound and a better pivot resulted in a lot more body going into each delivery.

Against England, he looked eager to use the quicker delivery and his carrom ball as his stock delivery rather than slipping it in as a surprise weapon. In this series, he looked more relaxed, restrained and bowled only 14 carrom balls over the entire series, with five of them resulting in wickets. It was clear that he gave much thought behind every delivery and flicked in the surprise one only when the batsman wasn’t expecting it. He evidently put more revolutions on the ball and his height enabled him to extract the extra bounce.

However, the biggest change in Ashwin was his increased patience. Once in an interview, Anil Kumble was asked “What gets a batsman out? The turn or the bounce?” Anil Kumble smiled and replied, “The pressure!” And that’s exactly what Ashwin displayed in this series. He maintained constant pressure on the Aussies with his immaculate accuracy that led to their downfall. He didn’t want to grab a wicket every ball but was ready to work for it. He bowled in the channel, kept the batsmen guessing and created pressure even when he wasn’t raking up the wickets.

His talent was never in question, but had a few question marks about his application. However, against the Australians, R. Ashwin showed that he was ready to sweat it out the old fashioned way. With 92 scalps in 16 Test matches, he’s on his way to break Anil Kumble’s record for the quickest Indian to 100 Test wickets. When asked about his turn around, he gave all his credit to his childhood coach Sunil Subramanian, who worked tirelessly with him to iron out the wrinkles with his delivery stride.

“I had to work on my delivery stride, it had got a little long during the England series and that was affecting the way I was delivering the ball…” – Ashwin said after being named the Man of the Series in the Border-Gavaskar trophy.

Years back, one small step for a man was regarded as one giant leap for mankind. Who knows, this one change in the delivery stride might just be the biggest leap for Ravichandran Ashwin!

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