Ashwin seals place as India's go-to spinner
His first winning contribution came through a brilliant catch at first slip which saw the departure of Alastair Cook. R Ashwin is not one of the best fielders in the Indian team. Yet, on Sunday evening, he stole a stunning catch, with both hands, to his right, as Cook edged a seaming away delivery from Umesh Yadav. It was the first of the three catches Ashwin would take in the England innings. As important as those moments were, Ashwin's biggest impression on India's Champions Trophy success came with the ball in hand.
Ashwin had been Dhoni's go-to man in the past two years and even before that in the IPL. Both men understand each other well and trust each other's instincts. Before the final, Ashwin had been consistent but there was a danger of a little predictability, with teams trying to play out his overs. But on a turning pitch, with good bounce, Ashwin's four overs were going to be a ring of fire for England. Dhoni's challenge, meanwhile, was to manoeuvre Ashwin's overs smartly.
He was brought in to bowl the sixth over. Jonathan Trott, England's best batsman in the tournament, had got off to a fluent start and was fast stitching a partnership with Ian Bell. Trott, at times, has the tendency to jump out of his crease early in his innings and Ashwin sensed he had an opening. On his second delivery, he pitched the ball on leg stump and the ball turned behind Trott's legs. But the batsman had erroneously advanced out of his crease to allow Dhoni an easy stumping. It was a telling blow and a big turning point.
The next one arrived exactly at the half-way stage. It was the 10th over. Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara were new to the crease. England were in danger of falling apart. It was important India dominate Morgan, one of the most dangerous batsman in limited-overs cricket, quickly. Dhoni got a slip and silly point. Ashwin made sure his line was off stump. His second ball pitched on length. Morgan went for the prod cautiously but could not read the turn as ball spun away on the bounce. It was the best ball of the over which finished as India's only maiden over. In those few minutes, Ashwin had tied down the Irish-born left-hander, who did not show the courage to come out of his crease at all. Ashwin's figures read 3-1-6-2. England were 46 for 4.
Even as Morgan and Bopara regrouped, and steadily brought England back into the contest, the Ashwin threat loomed. By the time Ashwin was brought back, in the final over of the innings, Morgan and Bopara had departed. England needed 15 runs. Ashwin's job had been made simpler by his co-spinner Jadeja, who had confidently taken the ball from Dhoni to deliver an accurate and disciplined penultimate over, giving away just four runs.
As Stuart Broad prepared to face him, and as the full house at Edgbaston slid to the edge of their seats, Ashwin compounded the tension with his Magic Johnson-esque pose mid-air before delivering the first ball. An anxious Broad went for the shot and was beaten square by the turn.
Operating with a square leg inside, Ashwin faltered the next ball, an easy low full toss, which Broad used his long arms to easily sweep for a four. Virat Kohli pleaded Dhoni to get the deep midwicket inside the ring and push the cover back. Dhoni remained stubborn. Quickly Ashwin resorted to his original line on the off stump. It was now the batsmen's choice to step out and hit over the circle. The offspinner's range of deliveries, including the doosra and the leg break, made them uncertain. And perhaps that is why the two left-handers at the crease failed to take advantage when Ashwin bowled two short balls that spun away on pitching.
On the eve of the final, Dhoni had joked if he could have the option of having "two No.1 spinners" since he reckoned both Ashwin and Jadeja were equally good spinners, adding pressure on the other to perform. On Sunday, Ashwin proved why he deserved that tag, successfully teasing England with guile, spin, flight, length, line and aggression to seal India's title win.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo