India v England, 2nd Test, Mumbai, 2nd day November 24, 2012

Ashwin contributes, but not as bowler

With just one scalp in his last 76.2 overs, R Ashwin is struggling to impose himself as India's leading spinner

R Aswhin batted beautifully for his 68. So beautifully, in fact, that - and you and I may not agree with it - former Test players doing commentary were put in the mind of VVS Laxman and Mark Waugh. More than beautiful, they were crucial runs, taking India to what looked like a good total on a track with turn and bounce. Ashwin has been doing this for a while: providing India with quick-yet-unhurried lower-order runs, batting not like a tailender but a proper batsman. In Australia, he was India's most consistent batsman.

But that's not what Ashwin is in the side for. He is there to take wickets, which he did so well against West Indies and New Zealand that he became the fastest Indian to 50 Test scalps. Against Australia and England, though, wickets haven't been coming that easy. At stumps on day two of the second Test, Ashwin's last 76.2 overs had brought him just one wicket, that of the switch-hitting Graeme Swann in Ahmedabad. Take out the series against West Indies and New Zealand, two of the poorer sides against spin, and Ashwin's bowling average rises to 62.30 with a wicket every 20 overs.

These numbers overstate the story a little. Firstly, by taking out West Indies and New Zealand, you take away half of his Tests. Also, his Tests against Australia were played in Australia where finger spinners draw minimal assistance. Yet these numbers can't be ignored. If two of his first three series were a little too easy, and one of them too hard, this one against England was going to be Ashwin's first big test. At least three of the England batsmen - Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell - were not expected to throw their wickets away. England were expected to make Ashwin work hard.

Having bowled 92 overs for just four wickets is a clear sign of that hard work. Ashwin has been working hard, but it hasn't yet shown in the wickets column. He is a proud cricketer - competitive and combative - and this will not sit well with him. If he is not defensive about it, he should be the first one to realise he hasn't been patient enough. And this pitch has even had the turn and the bounce that India have been yearning.

During Ashwin's lean spell in this series, there haven't been periods where he has tried to work batsmen out. Monty Panesar did that. He may have bowled quick, but he kept bowling full to draw the batsmen forward, and then pulled one back a little to create gap between bat and the pitch of the ball. Ashwin himself benefitted through that full length when he got Cook on the drive in the first Test.

Yet Ashwin has been reluctant to go round the wicket to Cook. This, though, seems like some inexplicable team plan. Even Pragyan Ojha has been bowling - for the most part - round the wicket to Cook. By going over the wicket, he has been negating lbw, and also that angle that makes the left-hand batsmen play at the ball. Then there has been the case of dropping a ball short every now and then. Or too straight. This will not work against batsmen like Cook, who strive to set out their stall and don't gift their wickets away.

It makes you wonder if too much limited-overs cricket has done this to Ashwin's patience. In T20, bowling two balls in the same spot is frowned upon. In Tests, you have to go through spells where you keep pitching in the same general area at different trajectory and angle. Possibly, it is Ojha's accuracy at the other end that gives Ashwin a bit more license to experiment. Whatever it is, the lack of wickets from their lead spinner going into the series will begin to worry India.

Perhaps it's a confidence thing. Perhaps one wicket might lead to many others, especially on this pitch. Perhaps we also need to be patient with him. There's a lot of cricket left, both in this Test and this series. There's a lot of time left for him to improve, but it is slightly different now. Harbhajan Singh is in the same XI, and if the veteran takes wickets here, it will put more pressure on Ashwin.

Mumbai has been a bittersweet venue for Ashwin anyway. The last time he played here, he scored a century when India could have fallen behind West Indies by a big margin. In the second innings, too, he batted well, but eventually drew the ire of the fans by not going for the second run with two runs required off the last ball. He has had a good first day this time, scoring handy runs, but he will want an end that's just as sweet.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2012, 6:42 GMT

    Cook has batted beautifully -- almost as well as any non Asian in India in recent times. But in every inning he has gotten one live from the umpires, and boy has he cashed in. 1st test he was out for 34 (in 33rd over) in first inning and 41 (in 24th over) in 2nd innings. He was out yesterday on 84 in Harbhajans over (over# 62). So in 2 Tests he has already effectively batted 5 times. Prior was let off in first test second inning, and Yesterday Zaheer got a shocker. Samit got 3 bad ones in 1st test (one in favor, when he was plumb and two against, when he was not out). Over all third grade umpiring so far.

    And for most part, Ashwin has looked like an IPL bowler who does not have enough tricks to topple top batsmen, unless they throw it away. Also I think 3 spinner ploy is over. Why Pankaj Singh is not in the squad, beats me. See his 4/5 wicket videos on you tube, in couple of recent Ranji games and you will get the answer. Guy is tall, strong, has picked pace and swings both ways.

  • GAURAV on November 25, 2012, 6:32 GMT

    Ashwin is fastest to 50 wickets without DRS, much better than overhyped Ajmal who gets most wickets due to DRS!!!

  • Arulprakash on November 25, 2012, 6:07 GMT

    Why this instant criticism of a bowler but batters in India are left alone. Gambhir hasnt scored any hundred in 2 years and Sachin hasnt either! Sehwag just scored a century after a gap of two years. Dhoni hasnt had one century in over 1 year. No wonder India doesnt produce good bowlers because the Media is biased

  • Bobby on November 25, 2012, 5:05 GMT

    R.Ashwin is an over hyped bowler. Indian fans as usual has made him look like Saeed Ajmal. It should be further noted that Ashwin has to still play test matches againt likes of Pakistan and Sri Lanka that are fine batsmen of spin bowling. Ashwin is just another indian bowler who would soon disappear like Irfan Pathan did..Like Munaf Patel did..Like Ishant Sharma did and like Yadev is doing. Indian bench strength is alarming. One can not believe that it is same English side that played against Pakistan on less spin friendly tracks in UAE ( and also had Strauss in team). English team may have lost first test due to some dubious umpiring but then still posted a 400 and are probably going to put another 400 plus in second test match. India's real worry is not their bowling as Indians will never improve in that area, but their worry should be their so called legandary batting. Non performers like Sehwag and Tendulya can not score, can now bowl and are liability in the field!

  • Sri on November 25, 2012, 3:06 GMT

    Ashwin should be declared an all-rounder. He has really saved our face when the top order collapsed. His lack of wickets in the games discussed in your note are due to pitches that had no turn.

  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2012, 2:25 GMT

    I think Ashwin and Ojha bowled consistently good but with not much luck.Lets admit Cook plays frustraing cricket. The pitch still hasnt turned square. The famed Indian batting played poorly against Panesar .They were over coinfident. U shoud thank Ahswin and Pujara that you are still in the game. Anyways sunday i expect our spinners to reap the benefits. Its not easy batting first session on a day 3 wankade pitch.

  • salman on November 25, 2012, 1:16 GMT

    were people thinking that England will lose the test match merely seeing 3 spinners in Indian line up?? come on guys both teams deserve for putting up a good fight this time to make up a good match rather than what was on everybody's mind after seeing England collapse in first innings in Ahmadabad. its still slightly in India's favor as England has to bat last but a good match in making for now

  • John on November 25, 2012, 0:48 GMT

    @cricsans on (November 24 2012, 20:09 PM GMT), the logic of playing an off-spinner is variety. That said, I can't see the logic of playing two off-spinners when one of them a Bhaji, who I'm not aware of having really proven himself worthy of a recall. With the bounce in this pitch, maybe Mishra would have been a good choice. That would mean that India would have three different styles of spinner and leg-spinners are always most effective when they get bounce.

  • Allan on November 24, 2012, 23:47 GMT

    The Indians who are good players of spin looked more troubled by Monty than the English who are not-so-good players of spin ever looked troubled by the Indian trio. I think that says a lot, don't you? Secondly, and it may draw the ire of Indian fans, but I felt the last part of Pujara's innings was a momentum shifting let-down: he should have showed much more aggressive intent after loosing Ashwin & Bhajji in the morning. I have been a huge Pujara supporter and still am, but it was totally inexplicable why he kept blocking till the end?! He is new and will learn that momentum is important and making sure your team carries the momentum is often the deciding factor. After all that is how counter-attacks work by shifting momentum.

  • VaRUN on November 24, 2012, 22:22 GMT

    Earlier Ashwin struggled to perform abroad and how he's struggling at home. Time to look for other spinners. May be Harmeet Singh should be given a go. Unfortunately this Indian team is a 2 man army. Ojha and Pujara. Sachin is just embarrassing himself with each game.

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