India v West Indies, Champions Trophy, Group B, The Oval June 10, 2013

Ashwin must continue to evolve

The offspinner must build on his successes by continuing to evolve as the environment he plays in changes

India's second group match, against West Indies at The Oval, will be R Ashwin's 50th ODI. Over the last two years, he has grown into MS Dhoni's chief marksman and India's best bowler across all three formats. As a result, the expectations of Ashwin have grown too.

After a successful home series against Australia - 29 wickets in four Tests - Ashwin had an average IPL season, taking 15 wickets in 18 matches with an economy of 6.72. By the standards he sets for himself, Ashwin's performance was slightly below par.

He might not agree, pointing out that he bowled mostly in the pressure overs during the IPL and created wickets for his team-mates. That may be true, but it is also possible that batsmen have grown accustomed to reading Ashwin's hand and spotting the carom ball. Though Ashwin can still control the tempo most times, his opponents may not mind that as they capitalise against other bowlers.

In the Champions Trophy opener against South Africa, Ashwin began bowling as early as the 13th over - just after the shine had worn off - and controlled the momentum of the game during his first spell, which spanned nine overs. During a crucial period of the game, he kept South Africa's middle order in check and forced the asking rate to rise. However, Ashwin did not push them into playing a false stroke and he finished wicketless - 0 for 47.

Even in the first warm-up game, against Sri Lanka on a flat pitch, Ashwin did not strike. The new ODI rules of having a maximum of only four players outside the circle has affected bowling plans, especially for an attacking spinner like Ashwin. To counter this challenge, Dhoni said Ashwin needed to be flexible.

"He is someone who loves to take wickets," Dhoni said on the eve of the game against West Indies. "Slowly he will realise that with the rule changes, spinners will not be looking for wickets, instead trying to keep it tight. Batsmen will look to make the most against the spinner with the extra fielder inside, and then you keep it tight and force the batsman to play the shots. They may commit a mistake or they might hit a ball that is not really there. That is how you can get a wicket."

Ashwin is a thinking bowler who likes to set his own fields, and is aware of the match situation as well as the batsman's weakness. However, the frustration of not being among the wickets can get to anyone. He had said that the biggest challenge of playing all three formats was carrying the momentum from one to the other.

"The onus is on him, on how he can come back and remain the braveheart and flight the ball at all times," Sunil Joshi, the former India spinner, said. "He should not get frustrated if he is not able to get wickets or a breakthrough."

According to Joshi, Ashwin needs to out-guess the batsman, create doubts by having fielders at silly point or short leg. Put the ball in the batsman's court. That way the batsman might be forced into two minds, earning the bowler an opportunity of taking a wicket. "The idea is to see how the batsman accepts such a challenge: if he has a strong defence, he will wait for the ball and cut or pull on the back foot," Joshi said. "If he is not sure about his defence, he might commit a mistake."

Batsmen might have got used to the carom ball, which Ashwin uses frequently, and one suggestion Joshi has is for him to use the arm ball in England. "It is easier to pitch an arm ball for an offspinner in English conditions. If the ball is not turning I always keep the batsmen guessing by making him guess which ball is going in."

The need to evolve is constant and Ashwin can look to the world's leading offspinner for an example. About a year after his one-day debut, Saeed Ajmal was a one-dimensional bowler, reliant mostly on his doosra. Today, with his several variations, Ajmal's ability to influence the course of the match is pronounced.

The key for a spinner is to keep the batsman guessing as to when you are going to bowl the stock ball, to set up a batsman and then attack him. In the nets, Ashwin is always telling batsmen where his fielders are and is challenging them to take him on. Expect him to rise to the challenge once again.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sir.Ivor on June 12, 2013, 13:23 GMT

    Ashwin is an intelligent cricketer.Just for those who have missed it he is closer to 100mwickets than Vernon Philander in the same number of Tests. I get the impression that he has realised that he needs to excel morein the Tests than in the limited over formats.Having watched him closely, I thought he flights the ball more often in the Tests than in the other format games. I have seen Prasanna even when he played for South Zone against Dexter's Englishmen in 1961l He was simply un-matched in flight and drift apart from his planning to bowl to a particular batsman. Till the end he was the same. He never had to evolve from his early days. After his baptism in tests in 1962 he left cricket to prepare for his degree in engineering. When he came back in 67 he was like old wine. He excelled in Australia and New Zealand in 67. Ashwin would do well to practice the art of deception by light and drift rather than bowl the doosra all the time.As Joshi Says an arm ball is more effective.

  • dummy4fb on June 11, 2013, 13:19 GMT

    He is used like a part-timer now a days. He is good only in the middle overs.

  • sandy_bangalore on June 11, 2013, 10:21 GMT

    This clearly shows why Harbhajan Singh is by far the best spinner in India right now. Its amazing that a guy with 400 wkts and just 31 years of age is considered a spent force by a few? Bhajji showed his class in the IPL as well, and some of his spells were a class apart. And as Sunny gavaskar rightly pointed out, just because he dosent have too many wickets under his belt dose not show the real picture, as he has had to play a defensive role at times. Its high time he is recalled, and his combativeness is a plus during the big games, and time for ashwin to go back to domestic crickeet and learn the tricks of the trade.

  • Straight-Drive on June 11, 2013, 9:02 GMT

    Nice Balanced Article..

    While Aswin looks like the best candidate for leading India's spin contingent, he needs to evolve. I will agree with @ Vinu31.. Indian players need to spend time in county or sheffield cricket and come out of their comfort zone. Thats how cricketters evolve.

  • Haleos on June 11, 2013, 8:52 GMT

    India best bowler across all formats. That is an over statement Najraj. He is the bets bowler in Tests. In limited overs he is most often outperformed by Jadeja. Ashwin lacks imagination. He is more style than substance. Has not evolved so he can not continue to evolve.

  • dummy4fb on June 11, 2013, 8:15 GMT

    All that he needs to do is to take wickets in Eng , Aus and SA pitches. A wicket is should be "earned" and not counted when it happens due to batsman's error. A bowler should force batsman to commit errors. It makes no sense if at the end of career he gets 80% of his wickets on Indian pitches.

  • Pathiyal on June 11, 2013, 7:21 GMT

    Ashwin has become a predictable bowler esp. if he plays outside sub continents. he doesnt spin or he doesnt have those mystical deliveries. and most seriously he is not containing the batsmen. he is just able to target the weak batsmen if at all there is any but now a days even the tail enders are able to play a shot of two on his bowling. amit mishra would have done better as a spinner, i believe.

  • sensible-indian-fan on June 11, 2013, 7:15 GMT

    Actually reading my own comment, it seems like I have criticized the article. Actually, I was just referring to some posters' comments. This article by Nagraj Gollapudi is AWESOME.

  • ziddu on June 11, 2013, 6:12 GMT

    Look, he is not a guy who keeps taking 5 for. Of late, he seems more like a containing bowler and not a wicket taking bowler. Mind you he is not a big spinner and even his first class average is not extremely good. We do not have quality spinners in the domestic circuit who can spin the ball and flight to tease the batsman. Unless one emerges, Ashwin will be safe.