Ashwin was disappointing….on Day 3 at Ageas Bowl!
The rough was there to be exploited. Moeen Ali had shown how. Among his five dismissals in the first innings, there was Ravichandran Ashwin himself, bowled off a horrendous reverse sweep.
Although Ashwin himself had not spent enough time at the wicket, he would have been licking his lips at the sight of the footholds in the track; the way Moeen’s deliveries, often branded innocuous, were creating all sorts of problems for the Indian batsmen.
When Cheteshwar Pujara was interviewed on the morning of the third day, he agreed that Ashwin would be the key. The conditions were as favourable as could get, and the ace off-spinner could get into the England batting with gusto.
This was echoed by the experts on television commentary as well when the day’s cricket got underway. And as expected, Virat Kohli threw the ball to his ace spinner at the very beginning of the proceedings.
And there was turn on offer. It was visible when Ashwin beat Alastair Cook with a beauty that looped slow through the air, pitched and turned appreciably just beating the edge of the left-hander’s bat. One ball fizzed past the hesitant willow of Keaton Jennings, squaring him up and missing the nick.
And then it went kind of flat.
Yes, the English batsmen played him with a lot of application. Yes, the pitch has probably slowed and made it easier for the batsmen to bide their time against the spin. But, for a long time during the day, the man expected to make a difference did not quite manage to trouble the batsmen enough.
Once or twice he beat the bat. Jos Buttler almost hit one straight back at him. But other than that, Ashwin’s bowling remained insipid. His 22-over spell in the afternoon got him just that one wicket of Ben Stokes, when he floated it up and kept it slow. It was an aberration.
The major difference with Moeen was that Ashwin missed the rough a great many times. With the England side loaded with left-handers, it was expected that he would bring the huge patches on the pitch on either side of the stumps come into play. But while Moeen had sent down 61% of his deliveries to exploit the region, only 98 of the 210 balls Ashwin bowled managed to hit the rough. That is less than 50%.
He also bowled a lot faster… he has bowled at this average speed only once in the last three years according to the analysis carried out by cricviz. As a result, there was less turn. On a pitch where the key was perhaps to allow the ball to turn by using the loose surface, Ashwin compromised on his degree of deviation by bowling faster.
It seemed he was trying too many things. The percentage of carrom balls was also up … to 8% … the maximum he has bowled in the series. It was as if he was running out of ideas, on the most helpful pitch he has got all summer.
His action also looked strained. There was a distinct difference from the other Tests. The twist of the body was less in evidence, the shoulder was doing more of the work.
Which raises doubts, has his hip fully recovered? Were all those variations and the curiously increased speed of deliveries, the reluctance to get stuck into a line, length and pace, the result of desperation because he knew he was not at his best?
Ashwin is the best off-spinner in the world. But he is not the greatest of athletes. The English batsmen often picked on his tardiness on the field, going for singles off pushes to mid-off, where he moved gingerly, which they would not have attempted with slightly more agile fielders in business.
And if he picks up an injury, it is natural that the healing period will be prolonged.
(One can also equate his reverse-sweep to the problem with his hip, arguing that perhaps it was proving difficult to use his feet and essay orthodox strokes… but that would probably be falling for confirmation bias.)
But the way he bowled makes one seriously wonder if he has really recovered from his injury. And it makes one wonder if India could have played a fully fit Ravindra Jadeja instead of a not-quite 100 percent Ashwin.
He may come back this morning and pick up the two remaining wickets and spin it a bit more India’s way. One may also argue that he was a bit unlucky not to have got more rewards for the number of times he beat the bat or induced a false stroke.
However, in the context of the match, and keeping the conditions in mind, it was a rather disappointing performance. This was one day when Ashwin could have eloquently responded to those critics who continue to question his performances away from Asia.
Unfortunately, he picked up just one wicket in the 33 overs that he sent down. That is disappointing.