Patience the key for Ashwin
Still very early in his Test career, R Ashwin has experienced extreme highs and lows. He started with 22 wickets in the home series against West Indies last year, went to Australia ahead of Harbhajan Singh and averaged 62.77 for his nine wickets in India's 0-4 thrashing. And right away, the criticisms arrived: He tries too many things rather than focus on his stock offbreak, he has played too much Twenty20 cricket, he is too impatient, and such like.
Indeed, Ashwin looked very flat in Australia, reduced to a containing role amid India's lack of runs and defensive fields. In hindsight, it was forgotten that he was barely three Tests old going to Australia. In hindsight, it was forgotten that even Harbhajan and Muttiah Muralitharan average over 73 and 75 in Australia.
Back home against New Zealand, Ashwin today again demonstrated just how many positives he has for a 25-year old, an age when most spinners aren't supposed to be exactly mature. He used a lot of flight, something he does even when bowling in a T20 Powerplay. He got a lot of bounce, something he relies on more than turn, which was anyway little and slow on the Hyderabad pitch. He bowled largely with control. To his credit, he stuck mostly to tossed-up offbreaks and did not overuse the carrom ball like he'd done in Australia. When he did, he troubled even Kane Williamson, who handled the India spinners the best. And yes, he can bat as well.
"I have always maintained that [I've] relied on my stock ball much higher than I have on the carrom ball," Ashwin said. "Yes, it has done the trick once or twice, I have got people out with it, but [I don't bowl] one every over. I am definitely looking to be patient on it."
And he can learn with showing more patience in this format. He did start to push it through quicker, flatter and shorter to try and get more out of the sluggish pitch when Williamson and James Franklin resisted. As he himself said later, it only made the ball come on better.
"I think the new ball was a little hard and the seam was a little more upright when we spinners started bowling," Ashwin said. "That helped us get a bit of bounce and a few wickets up front. As the ball got older, it was slowing up a little bit. We have to be patient to get wickets tomorrow. There is a little bit of bounce if it is slower through the air. Quicker through the air [it] is obviously going nicely on to the bat."
Somewhat inevitably, Ashwin was again asked what he thought of the criticism about his perceived overuse of the carrom ball. Ashwin, sounding a little miffed, reasoned that the perception had been carried over from his bowling style in limited-overs cricket.
"You want me to elaborate, I can. We play a lot of one-day and T20 cricket and I need to be one up and I would rather try that [the carrom ball] more often in a one-dayer or a T20 game because inevitably I would get hit. I think it is a comparison drawn from there.
"I have played enough first-class cricket to know what the stock ball is. I would rather get pinned down bowling the stock ball than the carrom ball. The carrrom ball is much more of a defensive mechanism, it is not an attacking ball at all. I don't know where that comparison comes in at all."
Perhaps he can learn to be more patient in press conferences as well, but figures of 14-3-30-3 on a day two pitch, combined with a confident 37 earlier with the bat, wasn't a bad day's work at all. Ashwin already has a Test hundred, and again his batting was refreshing for an India No. 8.
Forget the calm steers and stylish clips he played, even the way his bat comes down to meet the ball shows you that this man can bat. India had lost their sixth wicket on 387, and it was largely due to Ashwin that they got close to 450. The rest of India's lower order is really nothing more than a proper tail. As a reminder of that, Pragyan Ojha had one scoring shot in 28 deliveries, and also ran out Umesh Yadav. Ashwin's importance to this Indian side, thus, gets magnified. He surely can improve, but even we, perhaps, need to be more patient with him.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo