England v India, Champions Trophy final, Edgbaston June 24, 2013

Ashwin seals place as India's go-to spinner

R Ashwin's performance with the ball in the Champions Trophy final cemented his reputation as a frontline spinner for India

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • vivek on June 25, 2013, 4:54 GMT

    Ashwin is a practitioner of classical off spin bowling. Offspin bowlers are of many types given that there is Ajmal,Hafeez, Naraine who tend to bowl quicker. Ashwin is more like the swann, viru who bowls it conventionally but is open to experirments. He is just 2 years in the circuit and he will get better with experience.Now to the comments on the last over. I think it was a plan. He doesn't dart in like the other offies, with a leg stump line he could have been slogged by broad and the batsmen can play the lofted shot over cover if its fuller. By bowling a bit shorter and on outside the off, he eliminated the long-on, long off hits and the sweep. It was a guessing game with batsmen seldom play on the back foot to cream deliveries over covers, cover point in a last over situation as it harder to arc back and generate the power. He may have been lucky with one rank short ball but doesn't mean the over was lucky.. Well done Ash. you are doing well , hence the critics....

  • Dummy4 on June 25, 2013, 2:52 GMT

    @Gokul - relax man. I think the wicket of Morgan was actually planned - onside the mid wicket region was empty. Ishant bowled wide to make him reach for it, and at the same time took the pace of the ball, causing the batsman to lob it to midwicket.

  • gnanavelu on June 25, 2013, 2:25 GMT

    This may be the end of the road for harbhajan. A decent show in ipl alone does not make him a good bowler. There are many young off spinners who are better than bhaji. He must bowl well in ranji trophy and show the world know if he has anything more left in him. Ashwin is definitely india's best offie now.

  • Dummy4 on June 25, 2013, 0:40 GMT

    I think Ishant Sharma did a terrible job except that the England players did worse. Dhoni was lucky that his strategy of Ishant bowling overs 15 and 17 did not cost us the cup. One thinks Dhoni is lucky. It was obvious to any cricket fan the better option would have been to go with spin, Raina, Ashwin and Jadeja. This would have covered overs from 15 to 19. It would perhaps not matter at all who bowled over 20 because of the runs required in that over.

  • sabarinath on June 24, 2013, 23:30 GMT

    @simpleton: a fitting screen name..you seem to have no knowledge of the nuances of the game. The author has clrealy illustrated the key moments of the match and how Ashwin had turned those pivotal moments in India's favour. You say the last over is rubbish and sheer luck and all...Does it occur to you that Indian team analysts, bowlers would have analyzed down to their 11th batsman and may be have figured out that those 5 balls is the way to tie down that particular batsmen. Dont forget it is the same lad who ties down the mighty Chris Gayle in IPL. I suggest you learn the nuances of the cricket through such articles rather than taking a critical view point about something that you are not expert of

  • Phanindra on June 24, 2013, 20:47 GMT

    The Author forgot to mention two critical catches Aswin took off the bowling of Ishant Sharma. Both Morgan and Bopara were well set and were taking England home. Luckily for Ashwin both catches came his way and he made no mistake. Morgan adn Bopara were gone and India was back in the game. So three critical catches were indeed priceless from Aswhin. It is indeed true.. catches do win matches.

  • Satish on June 24, 2013, 20:30 GMT

    @Gokul Kenath : Your statement may induce dry smiles. Am OK with bopara throwed. But everyone know Ishant bowled a deceptive slow ball to get Morgan. Please give credit where its due.

  • Dummy4 on June 24, 2013, 20:29 GMT

    @simpleton - bowling the right deliveries to right batsman is what is required off a bowler. you're being completely preposterous in saying that any other batsman would have played it well

  • Nipam on June 24, 2013, 20:24 GMT

    Ashwin was always potent on Indian wickets, but the CT has shown that the nerveless tweaker can be a handful even in "foreign" pitches. but his batting remains underutilised.

  • TR on June 24, 2013, 18:16 GMT

    For bowlers to succeed we need courageous /aggressive / trusting captain AND most importantly good fielders.

    Bedi,Chandra,Pras,Venkat got so many wickets because the batsmen were surrounded by the great Solkar, Wadekar(captain), Venkat, AbidAli plus the great keeper Farokh Engineer. And India made its first foreign win with them.

    Compare the close-fielding lineup of India team when they lost 8-0 against Aus/Eng. = Sehwag,Dravid,SRT,VVS, etc (any one remember the catches dropped?). Dhoni was seen negative and non-courageous at that time. (with spinners not getting wickets)

    Current India team has good fielders and the same Dhoni is seen courageous and winning the matches (with spinners getting wickets).

    My point, its all in the fielding. Fielding win matches. Hope selectors are aware.