India v Australia, 1st Test, Chennai, 1st day February 22, 2013

Ashwin finds his groove

While the rest of the bowlers struggled to find a consistent line of attack, Ashwin's radar today was state-of-the-art

At one point during his debut commentary stint, VVS Laxman referred to Indian cricket's "worrying factor" - the dearth of spinners. Spin, he said in his characteristic serious, sincere tone, "is our strength and we should concentrate on trying to get back our strength."

Should a giant Chennai-style cut-out of R Ashwin materialise overnight on the roof of the Chepauk stadium don't be surprised. Ashwin has gone some distance in trying to get his own strength back. On the first day of a series in which India has everything to lose and Australia everything to gain, Ashwin held up the entire Indian attack with a performance of dominance and variety.

Pity that the rest of the bowlers did not step up to play their part. When one bowler takes 6 for 88 and the rest of the 'bowling unit' produces 1 for 221 against an inexperienced batting line-up, it is proof that the attack was at the least, lopsided.

Ashwin's six wickets against Australia should wipe away the memory of his performances against England a few months ago. He had averaged over 52 in that series and despite being loudly hailed as having been a transformed bowler in Chennai, he maintained he had bowled "exactly the same" against England and "didn't think" that had been a bad series. The appearance of a bagful in the wickets column, however, did point to a bowler who has taken a few steps on the road to development when up against the demands of the international game.

The familiarity of bowling at home - on a ground where Ashwin said he believes, "the air is talking to me, each man sitting in the stands is talking to me" - could be one of the reasons that he turned up looking different from the man throwing himself at England.

On a dry, slow wicket which looked more threatening for batsmen than it eventually was, Ashwin found the length he needed to ensure minimum freebies and offer maximum questions. He tossed a few up that raised batsmen's eyes and their pulse rates (Cowan), varied his pace to have the ball hurry and zip onto the pads (Watson, Warner) before they could bring their bats down, duped by trajectory and length. While the rest of the bowlers struggled to find a consistent line of attack, Ashwin's radar today was state-of-the-art. There was minimum repertoire display, the carrom ball was used sparingly, the offbreak repeatedly with changes in speed at his command. The message Ashwin sent out was not 'look at me, folks,' it was more 'you'd better pay attention to me.'

He should have had Warner off his third ball but the edge was dropped by the lone slip, Virender Sehwag, and Michael Clarke caught at short leg on 39 but umpire Kumar Dharmasena turned down the appeal. Ashwin didn't fuss about the Clarke decision, countering a question from an Australian reporter about whether the DRS would have helped, by saying, "What if we had gone for DRS and didn't have one left? The entire DRS system, in terms of how many DRS systems you have, doesn't suit it."

Ashwin's other wickets did not require DRS reviews and came in clumps - three in the second of his four spells. But towards the end of the day he was used sparingly by Dhoni in short five-over bursts. It meant that Ashwin had less of a chance to get at a new Moises Henriques and bowled at him after he had played out nearly ten overs. With just under half an hour of play left, Henriques who had played straight all day tried to sweep Ashwin and was leg before. Mitchell Starc, the new man, was quickly sent back, helping India take some territory back from the day's play. On day two, Ashwin said India needed to "pack off" the Aussies within the next 30 runs.

After play, Ashwin gave much credit to his coach Sunil Subramaniam for his spell, saying he had identified a "small thing" about "body position" which the two worked on. Subramaniam, a former Tamil Nadu left-arm spinner, told ESPNcricinfo later that it had been about ensuring that the toe of Ashwin's back foot should be in a straight line with the heel of his front foot. It automatically aligned the shoulder and "ensured that it is in the direction of the intended target." Ashwin had not been selected in the Irani Trophy but had played the corporate trophy and in gaps between matches worked with Subramaniam in Nagpur. Closer to the Australia series, they practised at a local ground in Chennai.

Subramaniam, who had watched half the day's play at the ground and the rest at home, said, "It has got his intent and his energy back. It was a simple thing, but when you're strike bowler in three formats, you can drift away from the basics and you need to find the time to get it back." India will hope the groove Ashwin is in will last through the series and that at least one if not two other bowlers will join him.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harmon on February 24, 2013, 11:09 GMT

    SamRoy: I have said in the past and I will say that again. MSD is a rare talent that Ind have got and there is no one like him in the world. We want MSD to win us all over but does he have the resources? How can we expect MSD to be Alexander when he just doesn't have those troops? MSD may have been wrong on some/many things but he is not flawless anyways. I don't about you but ppl often blame MSD for setting defensive fields, these ppl never care to see the kind of bowlers we have. Ishant has to be the biggest disappointment since Kambli IMO and he must take a lot of flak for making India look toothless in bowling. That is not MSD's fault. Bhajji, Viru, GG all lost form and that too is not MSD's fault. Laxman was rubbish in Eng/Aus and that is not MSD's fault. SRT/RD did ok there but how can 2-3 men make up for 11 men? Our tail is a joke, is that MSDs fault? MSD himself is not a good batsman away but that's about the most I would find fault with him. HB is picked yet fails - his fault.

  • sam on February 23, 2013, 7:14 GMT

    I still say Dhoni is an excellent limited overs captain. It is just that he is an incompetent test captain. His team selection, his defensive approach, his field placings, his tendency to allow the game drift (like yesterday when Ishant was bowling and Australia's score 250 odd for 5 there were four fielders on the boundary and other five fielders right on the edge of the circle and Aussie batsman milking Ishant for 4-5 singles an over) is just not on test cricket. Do I like MS Dhoni? Surpisingly, yes I do. He is an unselfish batsman and a calm, unflappable, gentlemanly character who always takes responsibility. Do I like his white ball captaincy? Yes, I do. Do I like MS Dhoni's test captaincy? I passionately hate it and think he should be sacked as captain.

  • sam on February 23, 2013, 7:05 GMT

    Till 2010 India's series in SL; I was giving Dhoni benefit of the doubt as test captain but in the third test (which India won) I saw something about captaincy which has solidified over the last 3 years. In that match, SL were reeling with a lead of 70 odd runs and 7 wickets down when Ajantha Mendis came onto bat. Dhoni immediately sent 4 or 5 men to the boundary. End result, Mendis started taking singles, got himself set and scored his highest first class score. Same thing happened in the third test in NZ and then again in SA (final test at Capetown which robbed India of a historic test series win). But none of you barring yours truly (and Nampally) ever spoke of it because India was doing well. People (India's expert commentators) started to notice these things only when India got thrashed in England and Australia. contd...

  • Harmon on February 23, 2013, 6:58 GMT

    @DC75: Where did I say MSD was a dynamic captain? And I don't have a problem with ppl expressing their opinion here. They have the right. But I too have the right to criticize those who have to criticize everything MSD does. I am no blind supporter of MSD too. I think he should not be playing tests at all. But that is about it. Other than those, I don't really see much that is wrong with what he does. When the players are awful, any team he picks will look bad and these ppl like Nampally & SamRoy will again criticize MSD for picking that team. They want MS to play youngsters, right? Nampally was full guns blazing in the ODI series vs Eng for that. But he did not see that we already had B Kumar, Shami, Rahane. How many more should play? To look more informed they throw names of some FC players but they don't know that trying a new player is a huge risk while hoping that Bhajji wud do well is a lesser risk.

    And how can MSD set attacking fields when his bowlers are bad? My God !!!

  • sam on February 23, 2013, 6:51 GMT

    @Harmony111 Of course I am an armchair critic (so are you my friend) and a bit short-tempered (for which I apologise) but I am especially passionate about test cricket. I have already said Ashwin is the best allrounder India has had in test cricket since the great Kapil Dev. On the other hand, I believe it is over for Tendulkar and Sehwag as test match batsman. I will still believe that even if they score a couple of centuries each in this series. Sehwag is a hand eye player (and in my mind the main reason India became a strong test side in the 2000s; Kumble learning to bowl well away from home the second reason) even if he loses a bit of that he will badly struggle. He has lost a bit of edge in that hand-eye and more importantly he has lost the fitness to play a long innings. About Tendulkar, he struggles against fast medium bowlers bowling full at him; simple loss of reflex. I will talk about Dhoni in the next comment.

  • saurabh on February 23, 2013, 6:06 GMT

    I will still request dhoni to go for DRS

  • Sam on February 23, 2013, 5:19 GMT

    @tintaman, Indian bowling attack consisted of Zaheer, Yadav, Ojha & Ashwin against England in that Test. England also batted second after fielding for 5+ sessions. I agree that the pitches are different so an exact comparison is impossible but Australia could have done better here. Still, as I said, 300+ could be enough. Let's see.

  • Chandrasekhar on February 23, 2013, 4:51 GMT

    @Harmony111, every body here is an arm chair critic, Samroy was expressing his opinion, there is no need to gloat over criticism against him. And by the way the great indian captain Dhoni lost three series now and that too badly and he clearly lacks team selection skills when it comes to Test cricket. I respect Dhoni, he is still the best person to captain india today but please do not say he is a dynamic captain, until we find another player capable of being an automatic choice in the team and also has captaincy skills, we will have to do with Dhoni.

  • Dummy4 on February 23, 2013, 4:49 GMT

    I think what this good performance of Ashwin shows is, more than anything else, Cook's class. Had there been a player like him in Australian top order, things would have been entirely different.

  • Chandrasekhar on February 23, 2013, 4:44 GMT

    @wake_up_india, it was not that Ojha did not do great, it was awesome "Indian" batting line up, the best players of spin who made English spinners look better than they are, so stop blaming the bowlers and look at our batting for a change. We did not make 300+ runs against decent (not even great) bowling attack for a long time now. I agree that our bowling is not great neither is our batting, which by the way is what cricket is all about bowling and batting, which means that our team is not good. Unless new players are tried we can never get back to being a good team, repeatedly trying Sehwag, Harbhajan, Ishant does not make sense at all;

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