Connect with us


R Ashwin’s unheralded genius with new ball brings on England doomsday in Dharamsala

In his first five overs on Saturday, Ravichandran Ashwin had reduced the projected England fightback into a non-starter

England’s second innings began less than half an hour after the start of play on day three of the final Test. Conventional wisdom suggested that that would be the best time for the faster bowlers to make an impact, but if there is one trait R Ashwin has bucked, it is conventional wisdom.

India’s R Ashwin shows the ball as he takes a five-wicket haul during the 3rd day of the fifth Test cricket match between India and England, in Dharamsala, Satutday, March 9(PTI)

At home bowling with the new ball, the off-spinner par excellence predictably whipped off his cap and sunglasses and his sweater and handed them over to Rod Tucker before the start of the second over in Dharamsala on Saturday. Mohammed Siraj, no mean pacer, had no complaints; he couldn’t, could he? After all, few spinners have made a greater impact with the brand-new cherry in Test cricket than the man playing his 100th Test.

Hindustan Times – your fastest source for breaking news! Read now.

It takes a certain felicity for a spinner, even a finger spinner, to operate with the new ball. The seam is proud and pronounced, which means it can easily cut the sides of the index and middle fingers. Because it is shiny, gripping the ball throws up another unique challenge. It takes a big heart and hours of practice for a spinner to merely feel comfortable bowling with an unused ball. Ashwin isn’t just comfortable doing so, he is quite the master at it.

Just how much so is evident just from the immediate, short-term returns. In his first five overs on Saturday, Ashwin had reduced the projected England fightback into a non-starter, winkling out Ben Duckett (with his fifth ball), Zak Crawley and the indecisive Ollie Pope. Then and there, this Test was doomed to a three-day finish.

Saturday wasn’t a one-off. In this series alone, which he finished as the leading wicket-taker for the umpteenth time, 13 of his 26 wickets came when he was brought on to bowl either the first or the second over of the innings – in the first Test in Hyderabad, in the fourth in Ranchi and again in Dharamsala. Both his five-wicket hauls came with the new ball as his ally. In those three innings, his strike-rate was a scarcely believable 27.1 (balls per wicket), a huge improvement on his career strike-rate (50.7) and even on his series strike-rate (36.11). Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami excepted, no other Indian has been as potent with the new ball over a consistent period as the off-spinner from Chennai.

Of his 189 bowls in Test cricket, Ashwin has been brought on at the start of an innings 52 times, with spectacular success. In those 52 innings, he has picked up 175 wickets, average 18.98, strike-rate 39.7. There is something about getting stuck into the opposition right on the back of a massive lead that stokes the competitive juices in Ashwin. With men around the bat and with his own clever, subtle, unique changes of pace, angle, flight and dip, Ashwin becomes a doubly dangerous proposition who relishes pitting his enormous guile against batters, attack-minded or crease-tied and defensive.

It took exactly four deliveries for Ashwin to sow giant seeds of doubt in Duckett’s mind on Saturday. The left-hander was taken aback by one that spat at him like a cobra and flew off the glove to vacant leg-slip. Duckett must have endured visions of a similar dismissal in the last game in Ranchi, Ashwin almost knew for sure that the opener would advance down the track the next ball. So, he held it back a touch, got it fuller and bowled it straighter. Duckett’s hopeful charge ended in unmitigated disaster, the ball snaking past his inside edge to hit off-stump. First blood drawn.

Crawley, England’s best batter of the tour, was having a torrid time at the other end, finding Ashwin from over the wicket quite a handful. One ball turned a mile from the middle of the surface, Ashwin’s challenge now was to control the turn. He did so effortlessly, getting sufficient but not too much deviation to catch the right-hander’s bat on its way to leg-slip. It was a classic, classical Test-match dismissal, off-spinner to right-hander, backward short-leg in business. Ashwin himself has done it numerous times, but this one must have felt sweeter, given the confidence with which Crawley has handled him most of the series.

All of Ashwin’s five wickets didn’t come in his first spell, but the tone had been set, the bragging rights won, the balance of power firmly established. This Ashwin with the new ball, in the third or fourth innings of a Test, he is a phenom. It’s a wonder India haven’t used him in that capacity more often but when they have, the master destroyer has seldom disappointed.


Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Must See

More in News