IPL 2014 May 10, 2014

Can Pollard do a Maxwell against Ashwin?

An analysis of R Ashwin's performances against big-hitting batsmen in the IPL


After receiving a clattering at the hands of Glenn Maxwell, R Ashwin's confidence is unlikely to be at its highest. After that match - and even before, from some quarters - Ashwin has been receiving some flak for his bowling antics and impetuous witticisms. His round-the-stumps line and/or pause-and-deliver tactics have not found favour with all. Regardless, Ashwin has always been self-assured, but nothing worked last Wednesday when Glenn Maxwell took him apart - Maxwell scored 34 runs of 9 balls against Ashwin at a strike rate of 377.77. Kieron Pollard, the next big hitter whom Ashwin is up against, has been averaging 50+ in the tournament so far and would be anticipating the encounter.

Let's take a look at whether Ashwin's meltdown was a mere aberration or whether big-hitters have usually come up trumps against him. It cannot be without reason that MS Dhoni has often turned to Ashwin in the Powerplay. Also, according to Dhoni, Ashwin does put his hand up when required to bowl in pressure situations. As the below table shows, Ashwin is among the most economical bowlers in the Powerplay. Ashwin's economy rate in the Powerplay is 5.83, better than both Lasith Malinga and Dale Steyn. Also, he averages 19.44, making him a genuine wicket-taker in the Powerplay. This is also evidenced by the fact that he has taken 27 wickets during the Powerplay overs in the IPL. Ashwin is the only spinner amongst the top 24 wicket-takers in the Powerplay. Clearly, despite being a spinner, Ashwin has been both economical and wicket-taking in the Powerplay - no captain can ask for more.

Most economical Powerplay bowlers in the IPL (min. 20 innings)
Bowler Innings Balls Economy Wickets Average
SP Narine 36 234 5.02 6 32.66
B Kumar 37 432 5.51 16 24.81
R Ashwin 50 540 5.83 27 19.44
SL Malinga 75 714 5.89 23 30.47
DW Steyn 76 900 5.98 27 33.25

There are two periods in a T20 innings where batsmen attack the opposition bowlers - the Powerplay and the last five overs of an innings. Even in this stage of the innings, Ashwin's economy rate is among the top five for all bowlers who have bowled at least 30 overs. He may not have taken as many wickets while bowling at the death, but he has definitely kept the batsmen quiet. That Ashwin has been asked to bowl so often in difficult periods of a match is a statement of his effectiveness.

Most economical death bowlers in the IPL (min. 30 innings)
Bowler Innings Balls Economy Wickets Average
SP Narine 37 391 6.69 41 10.63
SL Malinga 76 743 6.95 73 11.79
DW Steyn 67 540 7.51 47 14.38
R Ashwin 39 272 7.72 13 26.92
Harbhajan Singh 34 225 7.73 24 12.08

Clearly, Ashwin is the go-to-bowler in those stages of the game when batsmen are at their attacking best. How then did things go so dramatically wrong against Kings XI Punjab? It just seems that Maxwell is Ashwin's bogey batsman, someone he has been unable to decipher. The game on Wednesday was not the first time that Maxwell has had the better of Ashwin. He has now scored a total 64 runs off 24 balls against Ashwin in the IPL at a strike rate of 266.67. Even in T20Is Maxwell has scored 23 runs against Ashwin at a strike rate of 176.83. Maxwell has not spared Ashwin in ODIs either, with 65 runs against him at a strike rate of 141.17. However, as the above tables show, Ashwin has usually found a way to subdue most batsmen at difficult times. This fact is further reinforced by the Ashwin's head-to-head record (below) against some of the most explosive batsmen in the IPL.

Ashwin's head-to-head record against IPL's big-hitters
Batsman Innings Runs
Strike rate Dismissals 4s 6s
BB McCullum 5 12 31 38.67 3 0 0
DA Warner 4 19 24 79.17 1 1 0
AJ Finch 2 17 19 89.33 0 0 1
AB de Villiers 5 22 23 95.50 2 3 0
CH Gayle 6 34 33 103.00 3 2 2
KA Pollard 3 25 21 119.00 1 0 3
JP Duminy 3 14 11 127.17 0 0 0
DA Miller 4 27 18 150.00 0 1 1
SR Watson 5 41 25 164.00 1 4 2
GJ Maxwell 2 64 24 266.67 0 7 4

While it is easy to be critical of someone who has been carted around in the manner that Ashwin was, it has to be accepted that especially in a format such as T20, it is only inevitable that bowlers will finish up at the wrong end up of some contests. Apart from Maxwell, only Shane Watson and David Miller have had any sort of success against Ashwin in the IPL - and even those have not been unqualified successes, if you take into account the stages of the match when Ashwin often bowls. Statistically, Ashwin is clearly among the best in the business and as long as he satisfies his brief more often than not, he will be considered to have done his job.

Bishen Jeswant is a stats sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here.