ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

World Cup 2011

Ashwin patiently waits in the wings

R Ashwin's presence, or absence, in the game against West Indies may well indicate how India will head into the World Cup's knockout phase.

Sharda Ugra in Chennai

March 18, 2011

Comments: 56 | Text size: A | A

R Ashwin and Piyush Chawla during a net session, World Cup, Chennai, March 17, 2011
India has chosen to play Piyush Chawla over R Ashwin so far in the World Cup © AFP

An hour or so after landing in Chennai, a local friend blessed with the wickedest of humour sent an sms greeting. It read, "Welcome to the land of Ravichandran Ashwin." In a few words, the message swept past a thousand or so years of history, culture, politics and Rajnikanth and went straight to the centre of India's steaming World Cup campaign.

The Indian team's future in the tournament is largely not dependent on what happens in Sunday's match in Chennai against West Indies (barring a few possibilities). Offspinner Ashwin's presence, or absence, in its bowling attack, though, may well indicate how India will head into the World Cup's knockout phase.

In the course of the last month, without bowling a single over at the World Cup, Ashwin has gone from being one of those "promising" youngsters to a mythic figure, kept hidden from the public eye so that he can be unleashed on unsuspecting batsmen at the business end of the tournament and help India storm their way through to the title.

Chepauk is where Ashwin will put on his cape and shoot into the stratosphere. That is, if the team decides to play him.

The chances of that happening are increasing, like the humidity levels in Chennai. Chepauk is the most spin-friendly of Indian tracks in this World Cup and is expected to give India's slow bowlers the advantage of extra purchase and with it, help them to turn out their most confident performance of the tournament. Ashwin's "mental stability" and toughness have been so well-advertised by his captain that he is expected to turn up in his first World Cup match, take five wickets and strike fear.

The one buffer in the midst of much overstatement is that Ashwin 's debut World Cup appearance itself may well happen on familiar ground, on his own 'land'. All 22 yards of it. From his first-class debut in December 2006, he has played a total of 15 matches (first class, List A, IPL, international) at Chepauk. He has bowled 470.1 overs for his 61 wickets at 21.50 (economy rate of 2.79, strike rate 46.20, five wickets in a match six times, ten wickets in a match twice.) The numbers are very good, but India v West Indies at a World Cup will be like none of those 15 matches.

Ashwin's coach, Sunil Subramanian, is as baffled by his student's continued absence from the XI as the rest of the country, but he is not anxious about whether Ashwin can instantly switch on for what could be a big game on Sunday. "Ashwin has the mental framework of Ravi Shastri, Anil Kumble and Venky." (Whether combined or individual doesn't really matter.) The Venky being referred to is off spinner S Venkataraghavan, with whom Ashwin has been often been compared, not merely because they share a home town but also a resemblance of craft. Ashwin, however, is a bowler who has arrived and thrived in the most modern format of the game, Twenty20. His IPL team, the Chennai Super Kings, won the IPL and Champions League T20 double last season.

Even though he belongs to the city that usually churns out more batting dashers and stylists, Ashwin went from being an opening batsman in his teenage years to concentrating on bowling, first medium pace and then offspin. The consistency and accuracy that is gold dust in the shortest version of the game came, Subramaniam says, from Ashwin's greed for improvement and his willingness to sweat.

One of the practice tools the two men used at the TNCA Academy during their training is called The Grid, a 9ft long and 4.5ft wide fluorescent tape used to perfect spot bowling, where lengths and lines can be modified for a variety of conditions. Subramaniam was given the tape for a trial by former India spinner Nilesh Kulkarni, who has patented the practice tool that is meant to help both bowlers and wicket-keepers. Subramanian says Ashwin's success rate on The Grid is close to 80%. In a match the only variant is, of course, the minor matter of the batsman facing him. The success rate could go haywire then but in an interview with ESPNCricinfo, Ashwin spoke of enjoying the mental tussle that bowling involved. In the interview, one of the IPL dismissals he mentioned was that of a batsman he could run into should he play on Sunday - Chris Gayle.

Subramaniam tells another story about Ashwin's appetite: after a Duleep Trophy final defeat to West Zone, in which he had bowled a total of 78 overs, and batted for over two hours on the fifth day, he turned up at practice the next afternoon and bowled another 100 balls at the Academy. No matter how effective Ashwin might or might not be in the World Cup, if he is called up on Sunday, he will at least be ready.

India must only hope that they have not left it too late to use him, though Ashwin is used to waiting. In the Chennai Super Kings, he was understudy to Muthiah Muralitharan, and with India he has stepped in every time Harbhajan Singh has been unable to play. It has meant him six ODIs and four Twenty20s in less than a year and given the touring workload now charted out for the Indians over the 12 months, those numbers should increase.

Subramaniam says, "Ashwin is here to stay." And he doesn't mean on the bench.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 56 
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Posted by J Ranjith on (March 21, 2011, 22:01 GMT)

First of all, Dhoni said that comment about Ashwin's mental strength to emphasize on giving Piyush Chawla more practice and chance to prove himself. Piyush bunked it. Why do the media still cling on to some comments that captain makes during toss interview of a match? Ashwin must play in WI game and going forward, but if he doesn't perform captain must not be blamed for his decisions. It all comes down finally to how the player performs. Nehra and Piyush ended up reasons for India sharing a point with England and India losing to SA. Captain cannot be blamed if the player chose does not have guts to perform in the crunch situations. For the sake of the country, it's the World Cup and every player needs to play to win. In case you don't know, the history of the land is not just thousand year or so, it has been three to seven thousand years or so.

Posted by Bobby on (March 20, 2011, 7:28 GMT)

I feel that poor Ashwin has been set up for a failure by his own captain and pathetic Indian selectors. Ashwin is a good bowler with a very little International cricket experience. Ashwin is not a mystery bowler that he had to be hidden. Ashwin should have been played in all the matches leading up to QF and India could have topped their group. Now horse is already bolted for India as they are either going to face Australia or SL and both teams will take India to cleaners. Indian selectors and media has a habit to hype their medicore players. Irfan Pathan bowled couple of yorkers and he was touted as Wasim Akram while poor guy is not even in the team anymore. Youaf is another example as he has scored 600 runs and Indian media hyped him as some Abdul Razzaq- No wonder he has failed spectacularly. Ashwin's mental stability will be really tested against like of Younis, Misbah, Sanga, Jaywardene and so on....Ashwin is NOT Muttaiah Muralitharan and it is unfair to expect so much from him!

Posted by Lalith on (March 20, 2011, 6:29 GMT)

This match will decide whether India can progress to SF as if India looses today India will loose QF against SL.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 20, 2011, 0:22 GMT)

I must admit that this guy ASHWIN is not well known to me. WHAT I do know is that if he plays he better be prepared for GAYLE and POLLARD. IF he gets pass those two I will keep an eye on him.

Posted by Atul on (March 19, 2011, 20:31 GMT)

i'm extermely surprised why Ashwin never got chance to play in all the WC matches so far. It's so obvious that Ind is lacking enough fire power in bowling. So, we shud hav selectd Ashwin even at the cost of sacrificing a batsman. We hav enough gud batsmen but not enough gud bowlers who can restrict othr side to lesser totals. it's simple common sense to quickly improvise the bowling attack rathr than already strong batting line..

Posted by Atul on (March 19, 2011, 20:25 GMT)

@Abdul Aseem - sachin and sehwag example shud b taken as a light humor, man. do not get so serious and just enjoy the game. Best u can do is - support ur country team rathar than criticising this way. Our team is doing very well and players r in high spirit, except that they need to improve the bowling dept seriously. ind is no doubt one of the top most teams at the moment, and it shows in their recent performances all ovr the world.Cmon ind team, Lets get prepared for QF and ignore othr distractions..

Posted by TR on (March 19, 2011, 19:32 GMT)

@ Neeraj Mishra. Agreed. But could you do the same analysis for the *greats* Sehwag, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Gambhir, Harbajan, etc... Any idea how many catches they drop and how many runs they leak in the matches. Every one in Indian team is pathetic fielder barring Raina & Kholi. Oh, you are looking for good fielders? How about bringing in Badri one of very good fielders who also btw, tops the runs?

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 19, 2011, 14:57 GMT)

Ms. Ugra, please stop with this irresponsible journalism. Drop the whole Ashwin thing as you're coming across as being obsessed with him and having an anti-dhoni stance..please be a little mature as you're hurting the team's chances by flooding cricinfo with all these articles about how Dhoni's not a great captain for not playing Ashwin. He's a better captain that you are a journalist..

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 19, 2011, 13:27 GMT)

thousand or so years of history? are you an american? why are you so ignorant?

Posted by vijender on (March 19, 2011, 13:10 GMT)

An article based on negativism and sarcasm. I guess the biggest pressure that the Indian team has is to live upto the medias expectation. Sensationalism is the key term for the media.For eg to make the topic of Ashwin's inclusion (I understand that he is a useful offspinner who still is waiting for his chance and thats about it) as a focal point of discussion in each and every article, thats unwarranted. Let the team perform freely and along the way mistakes are bound to happen no matter how perfect a team is. No wonder Dhoni has a deadpan face and monotonous answers during the press conference. I think Ms Ugra should take a break from writing articles for the remaining time in this world cup.

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