Afghanistan v India, Asia Cup, Mirpur March 5, 2014

Ashwin back in business after going on the attack

Karthik Krishnaswamy in Mirpur
R Ashwin has always looked a better bowler when he has tried to take wickets, as was showcased in the Asia Cup

All through his career, advice has followed R Ashwin wherever he has gone. Most of it has gone like this: don't try too many things; focus on your stock ball; stop bowling that carrom ball so much.

After nightmare tours of South Africa and New Zealand, in which he lost the lead spinner's place in the Test eleven and took just two wickets in eight ODIs at an average approaching 200, Ashwin seems to have taken all that advice and thrown it in the bin.

On Wednesday, he took three wickets against Afghanistan, two of them - the lbws of Mohammad Shahzad and Shapoor Zadran - with the carrom ball. He ended the Asia Cup with nine wickets; he took five of them with the carrom ball.

It's hard to remember Ashwin using the carrom ball this often in recent times. During the ODIs in New Zealand, he slipped it in every now and then, but apart from one spell to Ross Taylor in Hamilton, he didn't really use it in a sustained manner. And that, contrary to popular opinion, is exactly how he has used it for most of his career.

A look through his list of wickets reveals it is likely that only 19 out of Ashwin's 106 ODI wickets have come via the means of the carrom ball. He used it quite a lot in his early matches, but as batsmen around the world grew more comfortable with it, he began deploying it far less frequently. This was a completely natural cycle of evolution.

Along with this, however, he frequently bowled with less than optimal control. Against England at home, he provided a steady diet of leg-side singles to the right-hand batsmen and fed Alastair Cook's cut with a regular supply of short balls.

He seemed to work this out when Australia came visiting, with his then coach Sunil Subramaniam helping him correct his set-up at the bowling crease, aligning the heel of his landing front-foot with the toe of his back-foot. This change allowed Ashwin to bowl with more of a pivot, put more of his body into his action, and extract more help, as a consequence, out of the pitch.

He seemed to have forgotten all of this, however, by the time the South Africa tour came around. He not only wasn't turning the ball off the pitch, he didn't seem to be spinning it out of his hand either. In Johannesburg, he seemed to merely put the ball in a general area, on a fifth-day pitch, and wait for an error. In the ODIs before that and on the New Zealand tour, he bowled in much the same way.

All of that changed at the Asia Cup, if in a bizarrely circuitous manner. In India's first match, Ashwin seemed to be bowling one set of deliveries to Bangladesh's batsmen and tossing another bunch the spectators' way. In place of the hand-twisting motions that usually accompanies his run up, Ashwin was raising a pair of full-sleeved arms above his head, à la Sunil Narine.

All manner of outrage erupted, and it was perhaps out of proportion to the changes Ashwin had made. His approach to the crease hadn't changed significantly, and the things a spinner does with his hands during his run-up are often purely ornamental. If you compare videos of his spell against Bangladesh to any of his earlier spells, his set-up at the crease and his release weren't markedly different either.

It still made no sense why Ashwin had gone through all that, though, and he was back to bowling with his usual action a few deliveries into his first spell against Sri Lanka. Since then, he has looked better than he has for a long time.

He has still been patchy, but he has not been the Ashwin of South Africa and New Zealand, who seemed content to let batsmen milk him for three or four singles every over. He has been willing to ask the batsman to come after him, whether by dangling a full and wide carrom ball at Sharjeel Khan or by forcing Sohaib Maqsood out of his comfort zone with his field changes. The increased frequency of the carrom ball has been one sign of this.

At some level, this change has been forced on Ashwin. India have twice had to defend middling totals, against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The pitches, moreover, have helped the spinners. Virat Kohli's captaincy may have also contributed; the fact that he picked Amit Mishra as a third spinner, in a crunch game against Pakistan, showed that he might be inclined to view spin as an attacking weapon.

Whatever the case, Ashwin has always looked a better bowler when he has tried to take wickets. There is no way to tell if he will continue bowling this way, even in less helpful conditions, but you can still hope.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Par on March 9, 2014, 23:38 GMT

    big_cheese and you may add helpful conditions + against AFG, a team who has probably played 10 games against test sides in whole of its existence and who are definition of "new to the scene". When he encounters SL/ PAK, far better at handling spin, he will go back to his defensive mindsett, bowl fast and straight and keep the RPO at 5.8 ! Thats the mantra of spin bowling.. In T20s its great bowling if Ashwin can keep RPO at 7, what a amazing bowler !. The author should follow up article when Ashwin gets back to his old ways in 6 months time.

  • RK on March 9, 2014, 5:13 GMT

    Ashwin with 9 wickets @ 18.5 runs was way better in the Asia cup than Shami with same no. of wickets @ 25.5 runs who was gifting runs in plenty or Jadeja who had a tally of 7 wickets @ 22.5 runs. Yet, there are only brickbats and no accolades. With the unpredictable Afridi at the crease, anything is bound to happen and he clicked. That's it. Ill deserved comments from people like Thomas Cherian can only put players under enormous pressure. Do not defend any bowler who had managed a few wickets more or gave a few runs less on tours abroad. See the impact their bowling had on the ultimate outcome on the match. India yet lost and hence, you can never call Jaddu a match winner. In fact, we lost one of the matches because of Jaddu's immature, illogical aggressive innings in which he scored 20 odd quick runs when he had MSD at the other end of the crease and more than a day of the match still remaining. People and the media often turn a blind eye when it comes to poor performance of others.

  • Android on March 8, 2014, 6:01 GMT

    dont compare a bowler with old dated bowlers like kumble and bajji, that days and all body's willing to take single and rotate the strike..this is period of t20..if kumble bowls now surely he will give 60+ runs in odi...ashwin is far better bowler than these two I'm current situation..

  • saurabh on March 7, 2014, 7:37 GMT

    @MaruthDelft can't agree more.......Gurdit singh also made a good point.....

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2014, 22:06 GMT

    Karthik Do you work for the firm that manages Ashwin? You gotta be kidding me with an article like this. He is a poor bowler who is clinging to his seat thanks to CSK and people like you who write this kind of stuff. Ojha, Mishra anyone for abroad but Ashwin....

  • san on March 6, 2014, 18:49 GMT

    What back in business......he is just bowling in sub-continent conditions.. thats alll

  • Prashanth on March 6, 2014, 17:39 GMT

    One thing everyone seems to forget is that Leg spinners and Left arm off spinners take the ball away from the batsmen in a similar manner. So bowling Jaddu, Mishra, or Ojha, Mishra, or Ojha, Jaddu, will only make batsmen get adapted to the bowling very easily. As we saw Afghan batters handle better when Jaddu and Mishra bowled in tandem. That is why we need an off spinner. Right now Bhajji is struggling even in domestic and if we bring in him now to intl team, that would be a bad precedent. Only good performance can be rewarded and Bhajji is far from being a good bowler. Mishra, though spins more, is still not efficient as we saw Ashwin and Jaddu picking more wkts than Mishra did in the 2 matches he played. Rassool is still not good enough for Intl cricket and needs 2 seasons more of domestic. Ash is our best bowler, but someone needs to talk some sense into him and better his action. All we need is a good bowling coach. Ashwin is our prime bowler.

  • G on March 6, 2014, 16:06 GMT

    We can bash ashwin all we want, but the sad truth is we don't have a quality bowler other than him in power plays. Jadeja at best is a one trick pony,doesn't know /forgets how to bowl when he's attacked constantly. India simply doesn't have the pace bowling talent to accommodate the likes of Mishra who was by far the best indian spinner on the tournament.

  • Varnendra on March 6, 2014, 15:36 GMT

    India's lead spinner should be Ojah. Since Jadeja has done well recently he must take the second spot. Mishra performed badly in England in 2011. He has been punished. Now he must be given the second chance. Ashwin has not been punished. He must be dropped in all formats. Let him take wickets and score runs in domestic cricket. Then offer him the No 6 position and the 4th spinner position with Dhoni batting at 5. @ Aumlan Guha is right. Only Kohli and Pujara are better than Ashwin as batsmen. But first he must first be dropped as punishment. And India should not play more than 2 fast bowlers in any circumstances because of the quality of fast bowling in India.

  • Pritpal on March 6, 2014, 14:22 GMT

    India can use Ashwin as all rounder but I still feel he is far away from a leading spinner like kumble and Bhajji. He is gone defensive in the recent. I think we need to give Mishra more chances as when ever he play, he makes a strong impact but yet not able to win captain's confidence... Also as Bhajji playing strong in domestic circuit, he also can be used as a leading spinner... I still feels if given confidence, Bhajji is far more dangerous bowler than ashwin..

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