India v England, 2nd Test, Mumbai, 2nd day

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

Sidharth Monga

November 24, 2012

Comments: 34 | Text size: A | A

R Ashwin bowls during the second innings, India v New Zealand, 1st Test, Hyderabad, 4th day, August 26, 2012
R Ashwin has so far failed to impose himself on this series with the ball © AFP
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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.

Pujara calms injury concerns

  • Cheteshwar Pujara, India's in-form No. 3, allayed fears about a rib injury after taking a nasty blow in the chest while fielding at short leg.

  • Alastair Cook connected with a powerful sweep and it struck Pujara a painful blow. After treatment in the middle he needed to leave the field and did not return for the rest of the second day, but he was able to speak to the media after play. "I have got little bit of soreness on my rib but I should be fine," he said.

  • The blow in the field was more discomfort than he has felt while batting in this series. When he was stumped for 135 off Graeme Swann it ended an unbroken period at the crease of more than 1000 minutes following his double hundred and unbeaten second innings in Ahmedabad.

  • "This was better than Ahmedabad," he said. "This innings was more satisfying than the double-hundred. We were in trouble and team needed a bit of score on the board."

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

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Posted by   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.

Posted by GRVJPR 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!!!

Posted by kingcobra85 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

Posted by KiwiRocker- 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!

Posted by ssand 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.

Posted by   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.

Posted by dock_haul 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

Posted by jmcilhinney 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.

Posted by MasterClass 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.

Posted by the_blue_android 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.

Posted by   on (November 24, 2012, 21:44 GMT)

In the 2010 Ashes series I saw Cook score hundred after hundred. He shuffles across and hits almost every ball to the leg side, just like Graeme Smith. Shane Watson was the only bowler who realised this (it seemed) - he kept bowling wide outside the off stump moving away. After many overs of this Cook got frustrated, flashed and got out.

Harbajan's and Ashwin's natural deliveries should suit this strategy.

Posted by dontlikecricket on (November 24, 2012, 21:09 GMT)

As I suspected beofre, Ashwin is not as good as what Indian fans think of him. Cook is a very good batsman, however he should not have been allowed making so many runs in these conditions. There is no doubt in my mind now that Pakistan has the best spin attack in the world followed by England and Srilanka. Pakistan success was mainly due to Ajmal, however other spinners like Rehman in particular is also very good. So far Ojha has bowled really well but there is nothing extraodinary about him, He is a traditional spinner with a good control. I am sure Ashwin will improve with time as he has many years of cricket left. I still think India has better chance to win this game as England will have to bat last. I will not be surprised if England wins atleast one match during this series. They have quality spinners to do the job.

Posted by cricsans on (November 24, 2012, 20:09 GMT)

If Eng batsmen struggle against left-arm spinners, what's the logic of playing any off-spinner. In this case two!

Posted by xylo on (November 24, 2012, 19:13 GMT)

"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. " That is what Sachin Tendulkar is in the team for.

Posted by getsetgopk on (November 24, 2012, 19:13 GMT)

The problem with Ashwin is that he's an average offie touted almost daily by these biased writers on cricinfo. And his stats are artificially swelled by the kind of pitches he usually plays on in India, dust bowls that start crumbling from the very first over of the match. Bowling will never be Indias strong point, as it has been proven time and again where as their batsmen can only play cricket on wickets with knee high bounce, anything other than that and its a WW. Its funny how the India fans try to bracket Ashwin with Ajmal, will only result in heartbreak and pain for India fans as Ajmal is a once in a generation type of bowlers like Murali, Saqlain and Warne. The rest is just white noise.

Posted by krik8crazy on (November 24, 2012, 18:58 GMT)

I said after the first test that Ashwin's inability to take wickets is a concern. He is still struggling. And my "inspirational" pick Bhajji isn't doing well either. The selectors need to give chances to other bowlers. Not being able to take wickets on tailor made wickets in India is inexcusable IMO.

Posted by itsthewayuplay on (November 24, 2012, 18:18 GMT)

@Harshad K Trivedi first of all Sachin Sehwag Yuvraj are not India's top batsmen. Secondly Kohli was playing very well until he got and the fielder was placed there for that shot even if the ball did hold up slightly on Kohli so good thinking by England. Thirdly, you recognise the English batting but you have to give credit to Monty in this test and Swann in the first. They can turn ball at pace and have looked like taking wickets. Admittedly Sachin in his prime may well have handled the ball better than he did yesteday but but tat's in the past and is a coulda woulda shoula scenario and credit to Monty for a very good delivery.Yuvraj has never been a test batsmen so really no surprise he failed on a pitch that offers something to the bowlers. Sehwag should look at Cook and learn how to apply himself consistently rather than get a century in 1 innings and become a liability for the next 20.

Posted by   on (November 24, 2012, 17:08 GMT)

Ashwin - you have not performed in 2 innings - you are not living to potential. Rsharma - you have not performed in 200 innings - But you are class - so we will give you another 100 chances. BTW, Kohli has not been scoring the past 2 tests. Maybe some analysis on his lack of technique and patience might be helpful to cricinfo readers.

Posted by truthfinder on (November 24, 2012, 17:04 GMT)

English men are good against off spinner because they get plenty of practice off quality off spinners in their backyard county cricket.The presence of Swann and Pannesar in the team is the proof of that. India did a strategic & tactical error in not playing second fast bowler. Now English batsmen are very much assured what kind of challenge they would face while batting and once they device a successful plan of negotiating off spin (that they did in previous test too), situation became bit easier and simpler for them. Absence of any variety of pace or swing allows Cook and Compton to begin confidently each time. After that Cook grafts to accumulate while other middle order contributes. The failure of Indian batsmen to put up a big total combined with similarity and ineffectiveness of Aswin-Bhajji set the match more competitive than it should have been.

Posted by Mill1 on (November 24, 2012, 16:52 GMT)

I think you have to remember here, Ashwin should not be given the status of India's lead spin bowler...he hasn't earned that! India missed a trick in Australia by not playing Ojha. The wickets are bouncy there and someone with his sort of accuracy would have got wickets. Playing both spinners in Australia would have been an option, particularly since bowling someone like Ishant Sharma was a complete waste. Don't forget Kumble was very accurate and benefited from bounce, thus was successful overseas...Ojha could be in the same mould. Plus last season in England, Ojha picked up a lot of wickets in his short period there, and basically got Surrey promoted...so he's proved he can bowl successfully overseas.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (November 24, 2012, 16:45 GMT)

Too easy o say that a bowler needs patience when he's bowling against the world's best opening batsman in Cook. And Pietersen needs no introduction.

Posted by Nampally on (November 24, 2012, 16:42 GMT)

Having 2 off spinners in XI, especially Harbhajan, is a wasted bowler. When will India learn to play a wristy leg spinner in XI? 3 leg spinners (Mishra, Rahul & Chawla) were tried - Dhoni played only Mishra in England Tests- Others were mainly benched. So India is left with no leg spinner "acceptable to Dhoni". In this test even Tiwary - a part time leg spinner would have been a lot better than Harbhajan. It is evident that Panesar type of orthodox LH spin gets wkts. on this pitch.With >50 overs bowled, Yuvraj has NOT been used by Dhoni - Why? It makes more sense to have ZAK, Ojha & Yuvraj operating in tandem than Ashwin & Harbhajan. India, supposed to be the best players of spinners, were dismissed for 327 by the 2 England spinners. On the same pitch,India playing with 4 spinners could only get 2 wkts. for 178 against England - rated as weak against Spin!. Twice the # of spinners but only Half as effective.Is it due to poor Captaincy or poor bowling or both? Selectors to Note!

Posted by truthfinder on (November 24, 2012, 16:39 GMT)

India can develop Aswin into a true spin bowling all rounder who can bat at #6 or #7 position. This would free a slot for another bowler and can be always used to slot in a fast bowler (even if the condition favors spin). This 1+3 concept is a regressive step something towards 60's & '70s when which rendered Indian pace attack virtually non-existent. Going forward India should resort to 5 men attack (2+3 or 3+2 while in India-subcontinent and 4+1 overseas. Thus india's bowling -- both pace and spin (improvement in former is imperative) -- would be the best in the world.

Posted by   on (November 24, 2012, 15:54 GMT)

Ashwin is a potential all rounder though, he could bat at 7, Dhoni at 6, that way they can play 2 spinners 3 seamers or 3 spinners and 2 seamers.

Posted by   on (November 24, 2012, 15:29 GMT)

Not ever been a Harbhajan fan. More of an Ashwin fan and it must be tough having to be the main wicket taker for your country at his age in a cricket mad nation. But I must admit, I think Sharma would have been more effective than Bahji here. Ojha looks a fine bowler though

Posted by Full-Blooded-Wallop on (November 24, 2012, 15:08 GMT)

Journalism is getting really impatient day by day. For god's sake at least wait for the series to end! or at least this match before taking out the swords.

Posted by usernames on (November 24, 2012, 14:52 GMT)

I think this was a splendid performance from KP, especially because he put pressure on the bowlers. Regarding Ashwin, I think we are jumping the gun on him. It's been two innings where things haven't gone his way because he's not created many chances. That could be down to some really good batting, or it could be because he's not patient enough. Sid covers most of the problems pretty well--Ashwin needs more patience, and needs to try and reduce the number of bad deliveries he bowls. From his side, he doesn't create a lot of pressure which can be important considering Ojha bowls pretty tight. I know people will land in droves saying he's a rather ordinary spinner but I don't think that's the case. He's fairly good and with time and more experience, he will get better.

Posted by   on (November 24, 2012, 14:46 GMT)

Tendulkar, harbhajan, Zahir have done sterling service for Indian cricket. But now they are past their prime and on insisting not to retire, apart from not contributing effectively to Indian cricket, are blocking the places which logically should have gone to younger players waiting in the wings - Rahane, Raina, Rohit Sharma, Aaoron, Dhinda, etc., etc. This way they are doing a great dis-service to Indian cricket and India.

Posted by sensible-indian-fan on (November 24, 2012, 14:36 GMT)

Honestly speaking, this article is harsh. By the way, the subhead that Ashwin has taken only 1 wicket in this series is false. Its 4 wickets. Please change it. Everyone knows if certain chances had been taken, he would had a 6 wicket haul in the first innings of the first test. Not stating some stupid ifs and buts but truth be told, people would have sung a different tune if that had happened. As far as his overall bowling is concerned, he has bowled a much tighter line in the second test. Let's reserve our judgement after the end of this series. In my opinion, he is STILL india's leading spin bowler.

Posted by GRVJPR on (November 24, 2012, 14:29 GMT)

@AvidCricFan But for ordinary Aleem Dar Bhajji had Aliastar Cook Plumb late in the day. Also don;t jump the gun on Ashwin and Harbhajan too early, Its early morning session when ball turns sharply, England will be all out first session tomorrow That is for sure and KP Front Foot lunge won't work even without DRS. India winning After Tea Day 4 for sure

Posted by kingcobra85 on (November 24, 2012, 14:03 GMT)

Other players are judged by series but not Ashwin. He is being judged by the innings...but they will add some superlatives in the front to add to the article everytime and bring the critisim in without fail. Why was harbhajan brought back into the squad ? wont that add undue press on Ashwin ?

Posted by   on (November 24, 2012, 13:59 GMT)

It was pathetic Indian batting against spin which has been a cause for concern, can you believe our top batsmen Kohli, Sachin, Sehwag, Yuvi have been Clean bowled in both the tests so far by the spinners ? Here you can praise the application of the England batsmen from the 2nd innings at Ahmedabad and here. Ashwin like Rohit Sharma just shows promise but when the crunch game is there he cant get the wickets. There are other spinners in India who might benefit India and Test cricket ! Now you cannot say that you did not get level playing field ?

Posted by   on (November 24, 2012, 13:57 GMT)

Where's his secret delevery which he promised before the start of the series?

Posted by AvidCricFan on (November 24, 2012, 13:56 GMT)

The problem is that Bhajji is also equally ineffective. From the Indian batting, it looks like barring one or two batsmen the rest are fair weather batsmen. They can't play spin or pace.

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