“At 31, being a spinner, Ashwin still has almost a decade-long career ahead of him and he knows very well that to secure his future at the highest level, he should continue to evolve as a cricketer. Otherwise, his competitors will run past him”.
To start with, let me come straight to the point — Ravichandran Ashwin is not being rested or anything, he is currently out of favour of India’s limited-overs’ set-up. In Test matches, he may be one of the top five bowlers in the world right now, but when it comes to white-ball cricket, the Chennai boy is not being considered for selection, despite being the current No. 1 off-spinner in India.
Since the defeat in the Champion’s Trophy final last year, the Indian think-tank has adopted the strategy of focusing largely on wrist-spinners in white-ball cricket. In the limited-overs series in West Indies right after the Champions’ Trophy, the Indian team picked Kuldeep Yadav along with Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. It was during that tour when Ashwin played his last ODI and T20I.
Later, for the limited-overs series in Sri Lanka, both Ashwin and Jadeja were left out of the squad and the reasoning behind that was they had been ‘rested’.
Meanwhile, the ‘rest’ has extended so far that both Ashwin and Jadeja are not even featuring in the ODI and T2OI squads for the limited-overs leg of the ongoing South Africa tour. Their replacements – Kuldeep and Yuzvendra Chahal- have done exceedingly well, so much so that Virat Kohli has made up his mind that wrist spin is the way forward in white-ball cricket.
Well, clearly it is time for the survival of the fittest and Ashwin knows that. So, here comes Ravichandran Ashwin 2.0 — the wrist-spinner.
For Ashwin, it is quite clear that he has to up his game somehow to get back in the reckoning and save his limited-overs career. Most importantly, there is the World Cup scheduled next year and Ashwin wants to keep himself in the frame of schemes of the selectors. That’s why these days he is learning the art of wrist-spin. He wants to become a bowler who has an equal amount of mastery over his finger spin, as well as wrist-spin.
An Anil Kumble like action
Since returning from South Africa, Ashwin has been working on this new skill. Recently in a Vijay Hazare (domestic 50-over fixture) game at the SSN college ground in Chennai, he played against Mumbai and bowled his much talked about leg-spin.
The strategy was quite simple from the 31-year-old. If the batsman was a right-hander, it was all leg-spin, whereas he chose to bowl off-spin against left-handers.
It has been reported widely in the local media that Ashwin showed a tremendous amount of control and accuracy while bowling his leg-spin. Remember, wrist-spin is considered as one of the toughest crafts to master in the game of cricket. However, it seems Ashwin is on the right track.
According to Mumbai skipper Aditya Tare, Ashwin’s action, while bowling leg-spin his action was a bit like Anil Kumble, especially the approach to the crease and the jump. Tare was one of the three scalps of the tweaker during that fixture.
“I wouldn’t say we were taken off guard, His [Ashwin’s] action was like how a traditional leg-spinner would bowl,” said Tare after the game. “He bowled with an action like Anil Kumble.”
With height being in his favour, a high-arm action can help Ashwin to get bounce out of the surface. And if he is accurate enough, then the combination can turn out to be quite handy.
Meanwhile, we are still in the early days of this new phase of Ashwin’s career and at present, he seems to focus more on his traditional leggies. Though in the Mumbai game, he was bowling the occasional flippers or the straighter ones along with the leg-spin and the batsmen found it quite difficult to read his variations.
“I played him for the first time and I was finding it difficult [while batting against his leg-spin]. The wicket was helpful for the spinners, so it was not easy to play an experienced bowler like him,” said Shubham Ranjane who remained unbeaten and batted against Ashwin for quite some time during his match-winning 59.
“It was difficult to pick him. One ball was turning and one wasn’t, so it was not easy to play against the spin or play the big shot when he was bowling,” Ranjane further added.
Furthermore, it has also been learned that Ashwin is currently working on his googly and in the next edition of IPL, we are most likely to see him bowling that variation.
Meanwhile, learning a new trait is nothing new for Ashwin. At the age-group level, he was primarily a batsman, but in order to get a place in the senior stateside, he developed the skills of bowling off-spin. The decision has turned out to be a career changing one as currently, he has 513 international wickets as an off-spinner.
At 31, being a spinner, Ashwin still has almost a decade-long career ahead of him and he knows very well that to secure his future at the highest level, he should continue to evolve as a cricketer. Otherwise, his competitors will run past him.
Hence, this decision of adding the trait of wrist-spin in his armory.
But, will this decision revive his limited-overs career?
Well, only time will tell.