England in India 2012-13 November 12, 2012

England shrug off new Ashwin mystery ball


It was anticipated before England's tour of India that they would face a great deal of spin bowling but, with the warm-up games completed, they have faced more spin off the pitch than on it.

Having been consigned to non-spinning pitches and deliberately deprived of the chance to face quality spin bowling in the three matches ahead of the Test series, England will have opened their newspapers in Ahmedabad on Monday morning and found that R Ashwin, one of the Indian spinners they will face in the Tests, has claimed to possess a new "mystery" delivery. "I have been working on this ball for some time now," Ashwin told the Times of India. "I might use it in this series."

There is nothing new in such claims. For years Shane Warne used to play on the insecurities of England batsmen by talking of his new deliveries ahead of Ashes series. Saeed Ajmal, ahead of England's series against Pakistan in the UAE, made similar claims. On each occasion, there was little evidence of such a delivery though confused batsmen sometimes interpreted natural variation as something more deliberate.

But this time England have dismissed the claims. Richard Halsall, the England assistant coach, reacted with both amusement and cynicism to Ashwin's claims and suggested the side had heard it all before.

"I was very fortunate to spend a few years with Mushtaq Ahmed at Sussex," Halsall, who was formerly fielding coach at Sussex, said. "And Mushy would have a 'mystery ball' every week. He'd show it to the opposition in the nets and, as we would wander off he would say 'that's just my leg-break'. If Ashwin has got a mystery ball, that's fantastic for him. It may move cricket on. But I'm sure our batsmen will watch him carefully and deal with each ball as it comes."

While England may be cynical about the existence of any new delivery, their ability to play those deliveries in Ashwin's already extensive repertoire remain unproven. Their troubles against Pakistan have largely been explained with the explanation that Ajmal is a bowler of rare skill and variation. While that is true, it ignores the fact that they were troubled almost as much by Abdur Rehman, and in Sri Lanka by Rangana Herath; both of whom are largely conventional left-arm spinners.

Halsall admitted England found it "quite odd" and "frustrating" that they had faced so little spin in the warm-up matches, but suggested they compensated by practising against good quality spinners in the nets.

"We've managed to get enough high-pressure, quality practice into the batsmen off the field so that they feel ready for the first Test," he said. "It's not a concern, but it has been quite odd that we haven't faced the spin out in the middle, especially when there have been spinners playing. But we've been fortunate to have some exceptional net bowlers. Over here, you do get some exceptional players not in the games."

Halsall was behind the stumps when Stuart Broad and Steven Finn bowled in practise on Sunday and was impressed by what he saw. But a decision on their participation will not be made until Tuesday at the earliest with both needing to prove their match fitness with a prolonged bowl in practise.

"Steven and Stuart both looked fairly hostile," Halsall said. "They both bowled very well. It's fantastic to see where Steven is. We didn't think he'd be at this stage so soon. That's great, and Stuart is coming along exactly as we thought he would.

"We'll monitor them over the next two days. Then we'll know a little bit more. But we're happy with where they are at the moment."

It underlines Halsall's growing stature within the England camp that he has been given a more public role with the squad for the first time. Originally appointed as fielding coach, he has already stood in for team director, Andy Flower, on occasional days and must be considered a contender as his successor sometime in the future. But Halsall may require a spell as director of cricket at a county before taking control of the national side.

It may also be relevant that Ashley Giles is presently with the squad. Warwickshire's director of cricket, who is also an England selector, may be a more suitable candidate to stand in for an entire series if Flower is to be rested. With ODI series coming up against India and New Zealand, it is possible Flower will be urged to take some time off ahead of a year that will include back-to-back Ashes series.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Al on November 14, 2012, 3:36 GMT

    Ashwin is a decent bowler...but he is not in the same class as Ajmal, yet. Ajmal made Tendulya look like a rookie in Asia cup. If Ashwin fails, we have plenty of good spinners in Jalaj Saxena, Shabaz Nadeem, etc.

  • Andrew on November 13, 2012, 23:45 GMT

    @sensible-indian-fan on (November 13 2012, 11:32 AM GMT) - well that was sort of my point. Ashwin is unproven & could well become very good or great, this will be a big test for him, as so far I think he has succeeded against weaker teams. It is a similar arguement I have about Finn. A large chunk of his wickets have been against Bangladesh & so I won't rate him highly until that portion lowers relative to his overall wickets. IMO - I don't rate Ashwin above the SL spinners who played England recently. I am more than happy to revise after this Test series (whatever that is worth)!!!

  • Dummy4 on November 13, 2012, 13:31 GMT

    I think Ashwin is way too over rated. He has overseas record to prove that! I highly doubt if he can conquer England in this upcoming series!

  • Dummy4 on November 13, 2012, 12:50 GMT

    Just Wait and Watch... dont start predicting anything... the test hasn't yet started..!!

  • Sensible on November 13, 2012, 11:32 GMT

    @meety - Ashwin is not yet proven. You accept it, right it? Then how can you be sure that he will NOT be better than Ajmal? Early indications show that he has done very well in okayish spinning tracks. 2 man of the series at home. Yes, WI and NZ are bad players of spin. The question is - Is WI worse than Eng when it comes to spin? Debatable topic, right? Plus here's something that applies to both Ajmal and Ashwin - Check out Kumble's average in Aus during the 1998 tour when India got slaughtered and check out his average in the 2003 tour when India did well to almost get a series win. There will be a huge difference. Why? Because when batmen put runs on the board, one can attack and take wickets. So we shouldn't look too much into Ajmal and Ashwin's record in Aus. Chuck all the mystery ball nonsense, I just have a feeling England is grossly underestimating Ashwin and Ojha. As of now, Ajmal is waaaay ahead of Ashwin but only time will tell who is more effective.

  • Abinash on November 13, 2012, 10:11 GMT

    We don't need mystery balls to get the hapless English rolled over. Just simple dolly spinners will do.

  • cricket on November 13, 2012, 6:29 GMT

    Its very good aswin releasing another variation but next selection for test team should add another mystery to england by selecting rahul sharma, a legspinner I think most of us wish to see ashwin ojha rahulsharma balling in a test match to england in india.

  • Andrew on November 13, 2012, 5:53 GMT

    @sensible-indian-fan on (November 12 2012, 20:49 PM GMT) - sorry mate, but Ashwin v Ajmal is a win to Ajmal by knock out. Ashwin's resume has no highlights outside India, plus 85% of his wickets have come against NZ & WI - lowly ranked sides. Like Ajmal, he failed against Oz, this will be his next big test!

  • Bobby on November 13, 2012, 5:41 GMT

    This is a kind of talk that has ruined many careers..R.Ashwin is an over rated ordinary spinner who is being made to look good as he has played on Indian wickets..R.Ashwin has 9 wickets at an average of 61 outside India. Ashwin has yet to face likes of Sangakara,Younis Khan, Jaywardene who are wondeful players of spin. Younis Khan's master piece of 267 against Kumble was a treat. Ashwin needs to focus on normal balls instead of mystery balls. Ashwin is not Saeed Ajmal, he would never be. Saeed Ajmal is a different type of bowler who has made Tendulya look clueless so Saeed Ajmal can affard to talk like McGrath. I fnd all this self serving talk by players like Ashwin and Kohli distasteful.No one denies their talent but India lost 8-0 in tests,did not get in T20 semis, lost in Asia cup. Fletcher is missing in action. Looking at Watmore who is quitely doing his job. Pakistan was in T20 semis, won Asia cup, thrashed England 3-0. India is still living in flace ICC rankings! Wake up!

  • Abraham on November 13, 2012, 5:15 GMT

    Ashwin's comments are ludicrous. Instead of shooting his mouth, he should work on his craft and let his bowling do the talking. This kind of immature crap is highly unnecessary. This fellow is just starting his career. Let it not go to your head.

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