“With stiff competition from young and upcoming spinners, this five-Test series in England carries a lot of significance for Ashwin”
It is a redemption indeed for India’s best contemporary spinner. Isn’t it?
Last time Ravichandran Ashwin represented the Indian team in England, was last year’s ICC Champions Trophy final against Pakistan and he was taken into the cleaners, giving away 70 runs in his 10 overs without getting a single scalp. That particular performance put his limited-overs’ career into jeopardy and added a tag of ‘Test specialist’ with his name.
Well, now, a year later, here we are, on a Day 1 track Ashwin rattling the English Test batting line-up with 4 for 50. There was not much spin off the surface but he earned the breakthroughs through subtle variations. And with one more wicket up for grab, there is every chance that the Chennai boy could become the first Indian spinner to take a Test five-for in England since Harbhajan Singh’s 5 for 115 at the Oval back in 2002.
Throughout his Test career, Ashwin has always been criticised for his non-effectiveness in away tours, especially in countries like Australia and England, where there is no help from the track for a spinner. In fact, before this performance in Edgbaston, Ashwin had a Test bowling average of 33.66 in this country. Hence, he came into this series with a point to prove.
However, despite having a good county stint with Worcestershire, there was some amount of uncertainty surrounding Ashwin’s selection in the for this series-opener. With the rise of Kuldeep Yadav during the limited-overs leg of the tour, there were talks about playing him as a lone spinner ahead of Ashwin.
Thankfully, the team management chose to go with experience and the workhorse Ashwin proved his worth, like he did in Centurion, earlier this year.
On Wednesday, Ashwin did not have to wait for long to get his chance. With the slight dampness in the pitch and two left-handed openers at the crease, Virat Kohli introduced him as early as in the seventh over of the innings. And Ashwin struck with his 11th ball of the match, getting past the defense of Alastair Cook with the best ball of the day.
Perhaps keeping Cook’s past record mind, Ashwin started from round the wicket. He wanted to create an angle. Meanwhile, Cook knew the plan so he was getting forward, playing him in the front-foot.
Then came the magic delivery, a floated off-break at around 55kph. Interestingly, Ashwin had put a lot of revolutions on the ball, as the seam was coming down almost straight. It landed on the seam and the dampness of the track helped the ball to grip. The slight turn was enough to beat the outside edge of the bat and disturbing the off-stump. Ashwin jumped in joy as that particular breakthrough gave him and the team a lot of momentum.
As a bowler, Ashwin is most dangerous when he makes the batsman play from a good length. And according to an analysis by ESPNCrininfo, out of the 150 deliveries, he bowled Wednesday, 118 were pitched on a good length or just short of a length. So, unlike the Ashiwn of the past, this time he was ready to play the waiting game by targeting the stumps and was consistent with his lengths.
Furthermore, he out thought the batsmen and planned their dismissals.
Against Jos Buttler, he bowled straight and attacked the stumps. There was no freebie on offer and that did the trick. A circumspect Buttler missed a straight delivery to be trapped as plumb leg-before.
When Ben Stokes came to the crease, Ashwin knew he was rusty and would like to hit a few shots get himself into the grooves. So, he frustrated the left-hander with an in-between length so that he could neither attack nor defend with conviction. And it did not take much longer for Stokes to play a rash shot straight back to the bowler.
And his fourth scalp, Stuart Broad, did not the technique or expertise to handle that arm ball and the umpire found him right in front of the stumps. A classic dismissal against an off-break bowler.
With stiff competition from young and upcoming spinners, this five-Test series in England carries a lot of significance for Ashwin. He knows an average show here could literally project someone like Kuldeep as the first-choice pick even in the Test team. Hence, he needs to deliver and the old fox started on a high note.