World Cup 2011 March 10, 2011

Dhoni's spin on spinners is a googly

A case of Piyush Chawla's emotional career history keeping R Ashwin out of the XI

The R Ashwin question is about to be answered. Soon. Maybe even on the weekend, definitely by next weekend; the captain says so. On the night that India beat Netherlands (with what may have looked like a huff and a puff but was otherwise interpreted as a thorough workout for various arms of his team), MS Dhoni said R Ashwin was definitely going to get a game in the World Cup.

"We are still supposed to give Ashwin a chance, he deserves a place, so he will feature in one of the teams [that will play in the group stages]." That should ideally be either against South Africa on Saturday or, maybe in keeping with the team's current philosophy, against West Indies in the last group game in front of Aswhin's home crowd in Chennai.

Chennai would be quite fitting and in keeping with India's secret nickname at this World Cup - not merely the favourites but the favourites who are, to borrow George Bush Sr's words, the "Kinder, Gentler" team. The debate over Ashwin and legspinner Piuysh Chawla has nagged Dhoni at every World Cup press conference. (By the time he is done, his aggregate would at the very least be thirteen.) A dip in form in group games against England and Ireland, Dhoni said, had actually made Chawla's case stronger going into the match versus Netherlands.

Ashwin didn't stand a chance of getting a look-in at the Kotla because, "basically you have to see which was the player that needed this game most, rather than the team needing the player. I felt it was Piyush, who needed this game much more than Ashwin."

The reasons for that line of thinking were not centred around the merits of Chawla's googly over Ashwin's carrom ball. Or even, as Sanjay Manjrekar said in his audio chat with ESPNcricinfo, the advantage of the leggie's relatively shorter stature on a wicket keeping low over Ashwin's high-arm action. It was all about the stuff between the ears and Dhoni was not bringing IQs into the equation either.

He said he had been pleased with Chawla's performance against Netherlands - he had bowled with a "lot more freedom" - and reminded the world of Chawla's emotional career history. We should remember, Dhoni said, that Chawla had made his debut "quite early... he was still a teenager. He comes back in the side in a big tournament like this and people all over try to criticise him from left to right, so you can imagine his state of mind. So I think it was a very crucial game for him."

Dhoni explained that Ashwin, two years older, was not quite so fragile. "I know he is mentally very tough and up for a challenge or competition. It is good to have someone in the reserves who has mental stability." Ashwin's composure is clearly being seen as an investment that would be cashed in on during the knock-out stages while, in the early half of the World Cup, India wants to spread the equilibrium around.

"You want your bowlers to be in a very good mental state in the second half of the tournament, where you play against the best teams and you will be participating in the knock-out stages - that was one of the main reasons why we picked Piyush ahead of Ashwin." By doing so, Dhoni said the Indians were set for an ideal scenario knowing that the bowling now could be changed on situational demand. "It will be good to have all the bowlers at their best to select a XI," Dhoni said. Ashwin's best for the moment is locked up in the scorebook, his last ODI three months ago, his last World Cup bowling in a warm-up match more than three weeks behind him.

India's 'gently, gently' approach in the gestation period of the World Cup is being talked up as the tournament favourites stretching themselves only as far as they really need to go and, and in doing so, lulling every rival into complacency. Its success over the next few weeks is dependent on one of two conditions: whether Ashwin turns out to be the world's first nerveless cricketer. Or whether the team doesn't believe its own publicity.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rahul on March 12, 2011, 3:59 GMT

    i gotta big doubt rite now. Is chawla a better wicket taker than Ashwin? lol

  • Dummy4 on March 12, 2011, 3:37 GMT

    @ mustang77 Totally Agree. Dhoni's the best captain in the last 15 years of Indian cricket. I'm in full support of Dhoni's last move.. .

  • cool on March 12, 2011, 2:21 GMT

    Dhoni is a normal candidate.Dont hype his captaincy.He is fortunate to have youngsters in his team in good form. Else he is a sluggish and defensive captain.Not an attacker like Sourav. He easily goes into defensive mode.Smith is retiring from captaincy and hopefully even this guy should.Enough is enough.Lets give chance to youngsters may be Kohli..

  • Dummy4 on March 11, 2011, 21:31 GMT

    india need 450+ in all up coming games if they are going to win the WC with current bowlers they have...........

  • Mustafa on March 11, 2011, 19:57 GMT

    All said and done, if he is saving him for the big QF and SF, and india manages to lose the QF, then Ashwin would have played one game in the WC, and lost it. he has to get one game in the group games at least

  • Vijay on March 11, 2011, 18:27 GMT

    If Piyush is low in confidence, then why in the first place U select him for the WC...Is this a charity tournament...I think MS is stretching beyond his limits to justify his selection error..With Piyush's case, it is not about confidence, it is more about ability...He has never had the class of an international bowler. I accept everybody goes through a bad patch, but that is compensated by their match winning performances during their purple patches..but Piyush has always been a substandard bowler whom only the Captain thinks has the potential to be a match winner. I wonder what will MS say if India plays Piyush in the knock out stages and loses the match because of Piyush??

  • Unni on March 11, 2011, 17:53 GMT

    Some one who witnessed the net session in banglore told that Ashwin was troubling all our batsmen in the nets.So I also feel that there is more to it than what every one thinks

  • Dummy4 on March 11, 2011, 17:46 GMT

    if Chawala is needed to be groomed for knock outs, I wonder whats the fault of Sri Santh?? First he was not given an entry in the teem now almost no matches after the entrance?? Personal Bias against him or what??

  • mm on March 11, 2011, 17:34 GMT

    Dhoni Should have played Ashvin for the England game. If he had played, then England would have never tied the game. Look what he did for Chennai, he almost out played Mr.Murali himself(the best bowler in all the format for the past 15 years or so). He is the reason Chennai didn't go for Murali very strong in the auction, otherwise Murali was a real local favorites. I think he is better than Harbhajan also. For giving Chawla a chance, you should worry about the team not a player. I would say looking back at the games so far, take Munaf out and Play Sreesanth and Chawla out Ashwin in and Pathan out Raina in. Munaf is not going to make any impact with his pace, his fast bowling is fast as Afridis spin and with no turn. Sreesanth will get hit but he will bowl some untouchables and take wickets also(remember Kallis).

  • siddharth on March 11, 2011, 16:11 GMT

    if he wants to give chawla more games why does it have to be in a tournament like the world cup? yes u have made it to the qf..yes u r at the top of the when u knw the bowler is not doin well keep him for the future tournaments..oh come on we all knw u do influence the selection :p ....if u want keep ashwin a surprise then play 3 seamers...good lord i dint mean sreesanth :p ..nehra munaf and zaheer ...nywaz..u knw the best coz u r the u and the entire team...good luck

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