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Ravichandran Ashwin: A rousing revival at the World Cup

Ashwin has tended to dart the ball on a middle and leg stump line.

R Ashwin
R Ashwin stepped up and put in some top performances at the World Cup

Going into the World Cup, there were concerns aplenty for the Indian team. The bowling was, as always, the primary concern. Generally, India have always had concerns about the fast bowling department, but their spinners could be relied upon. But, going into the World Cup, the form of both Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja was uncertain, and India would not have wanted to be left depending on the young and inexperienced Axar Patel. 

Jadeja was coming into the World Cup with very little competitive cricket behind him in the three months leading up to the tournament, and Ashwin’s general overseas exploits had been patchy. But, with the campaign brought to an end by the Aussies in Sydney, one can safely say that the bowlers have responded emphatically, not least Ashwin.

Ashwin had turned into a defensive bowler

Far too often, when there is no turn on offer, Ashwin has tended to dart the ball on a middle and leg stump line. It seemed like he was bowling more to stop the flow of runs rather than to pick up wickets. But the cliché of picking up wickets being the best option to stop the runs flowing, will never go out of fashion. 

In this World Cup, the 28-year-old went right back to the basics. He went back to what he is supposed to be – an off-spin bowler. Erapalli Prasanna once remarked that if one didn’t flight the ball, there was no way he could be called a spinner. 

Ashwin has gone through periods in the past one year when his confidence levels have dipped so much that he has had to try various bowling actions. But now, we see the Ashwin that made a mark in the earlier seasons of the IPL. The classical action is back. The flight is back. The line is back to an attacking off-stump or just outside it – perfect for an off-spinner. But possibly the biggest reason for his revival in the World Cup has been the fact that he has used his variations sparingly. 

The number of variations that he possesses speaks immensely about his talent and ability, but far too often, the off-spinning ball has become a surprise delivery in between the carrom balls, the leg breaks and the googlies. Ashwin struggled in the Tests against Australia and didn’t fare much better in the tri-series that followed. He was getting into rhythm against Australia in the warm-up game prior to the World Cup but bowled only six overs in that game.

How Ashwin turned it around

In many ways, the turnaround for Ashwin came in that first spell he bowled in India’s crunch opening game against Pakistan. With Ahmed Shehzad and Haris Sohail building a solid platform in Pakistan’s chase of 301, the Tamil Nadu tweaker came on and bowled an inspired spell of five overs that cost only 13 runs, and also accounted for Sohail’s wicket.

It was a spell that included three maidens. That put Pakistan under immense pressure and they could not really recover from there, as the bowlers at the other end reaped the rewards of the pressure built up by Ashwin.

That was the base, and Ashwin took off from there. He bowled splendidly through the tournament and has once again become MS Dhoni’s go-to man. The long boundaries in Australia have helped him, there is absolutely no doubt about that. If not for anything else, the long boundaries have given Ashwin the courage to flight the ball and use deception as a weapon. But, giving credit where it is due – he has stuck to that off-stump line unwaveringly. Even when the odd boundary was being hit, Ashwin continued to flight it and left no stone unturned in his quest for wickets.

Ashwin needs to make this count

Like many people have been saying about the batsmen, Ashwin will return from this tour of Australia a better cricketer. Cricketing intelligence has been one of his strengths, and with India playing mostly at home in the foreseeable future, he will once again be a prime threat to oppositions. Ashwin’s biggest achievement from this tour would be if he still continues to flight the ball at a Chinnaswamy Stadium or a Chepauk, for if he does, he will undoubtedly continue to pick up wickets.

For Ravichandran Ashwin, a corner has just been turned and now there is a long straight that he will be looking to speed through.

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