Tweaks on action paying off for Ashwin
R Ashwin didn't get to play much part in this tour until the fourth Test. You could see him sitting in the balcony, reading a book, the earwig radio on, waving to the commentators acknowledging he is listening to them. When not in front of the camera, though, he spent a lot of time bowling in the nets. Not at the batsmen. Just at the stumps. Session after session. Dropped after India failed to win in Johannesburg late last year, he was a bowler on the mend. You got a feeling he was trying to rediscover himself as a spinner. He says he bowled without a batsman to better understand what the ball could do for him, and not "serve" the batsman. Long sleeves were gone, variations were gone, these were just pure offbreaks ball after ball.
Ashwin got his chance in the last two Tests, where it was impossible to judge his comeback purely by results: India batted so poorly bowlers couldn't have given a proper account of themselves. During the ODIs, with India in the contest, Ashwin has got five wickets for 77 runs at an economy of 4, and has a Man-of-the-Match award. It could be seen, though, that the ball was coming out all right in the Tests. There was some drift, some dip, but no runs or pressure to play with. On the eve of the fourth ODI, Ashwin said he could sense he was on to something even during the Tests.
"Even at The Oval I thought I was bowling really well," Ashwin said. "Initially when I started [the comeback] I was a little rusty. But there has been a considerable amount of work that has gone into it. Fifty-55 days of good work. Before that I was working with [Bharat] Arun [now the India bowling coach too] back in Chennai. It has been at least about two months of work on my bowling. We have been trying to get me sorted with my action. Thankfully results are happening, that's the good thing."
Ashwin said one of the most important changes he has made during his time out of the team is no not make big changes. "I used to make bigger changes with my action between formats," Ashwin said. "Now I am trying to make it as subtle as possible. Chatted with my coach back home. With Sunil [Subramaniam, his initial coach]. What we thought was, this action could be efficient in all formats. We have been trying to move from being a little side-on to semi side-on, and being front on if the format demands."
Ashwin said earlier too that during the Tests the focus was on becoming more side-on, and thus more classical. In ODIs, though, he said he waits to feel good before moving more side-on. "I try to be [front-on] when I start [in the ODIs]," Ashwin said. "Then once I start pinning it down, and when I feel comfortable, I play around a little. Getting a little accurate as the format comes through and if the rhythm is all right try [to] move side-on as the spell goes on to extract more from the wicket."
An offspinner becomes more and more front-on when he starts to rely on too many variations. A doosra or a carrom ball is nearly impossible to bowl with a side-on action. It's a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation now. Has he reduced relying on variations now that he is more side-on or has he become more side-on because he has made a conscious effort to reduce his reliance on variations? Ashwin himself remains a touch sensitive when the topic of variations comes up.
"Using variations is something very condition- or situation-based for me," Ashwin said. "It is not like I put it back in locker and close it out. If it is something I feel like using I will use it. Sometimes it gets to me when people say, 'Oh he overused it.' For all you know I am someone who goes by the exact numbers and stats. If I know I haven't used it and people go on and on about it, I get a little mad. That is not the case here."
Ashwin does feel he is in a good place mentally with his bowling now. "Feels really fresh," he said. "Having worked on it, and it is a belief that I had to induce in myself. Which is quite easy for me when I am convinced with something. I got convinced quickly with what I was doing, and from there on it was about sticking with it. Sometimes the results come quickly, sometimes they don't. I am someone who will persevere with it if I have bought into it. I did buy into this. What's happened now is I am really confident of extracting as much as I can from the wicket."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo