India v West Indies, 1st Test, New Delhi, 3rd day November 8, 2011

'I hoped to get a five-wicket haul' - Ashwin

R Ashwin has won a World Cup and starred in the IPL. Yet inside three days at the Feroz Shah Kotla, he took the single, largest stride that could define him as a cricketer

R Ashwin has seen stardom; he made his name around India through the IPL and his bold opening spells for the Chennai Super Kings. In his brief international career, he has already seen the pinnacle: even before he had played his 10th ODI, Ashwin knew what it was like to win a World Cup.

For a young man of 25, those experiences are enormous by themselves.

Yet inside three days at the Feroz Shah Kotla, Ashwin took the single, largest stride that could define him as a cricketer. He has moved from a very respectable reputation in the shorter versions of the game right into the relentless drama that is Test cricket with success, comfort and nine wickets.

As much as he is known and relied on for discipline, control and an asphyxiating wicket-to-wicket line, Ashwin's debut will always be remembered for the whirling, twirling "carrom ball" that fired through past a befuddled Marlon Samuel and crashed into his stumps.

Ashwin's 6 for 46 involved sharing the new ball with fellow spinner Pragyan Ojha after India's dramatic first innings collapse. His wickets were timely (Kieran Powell in his first over), important (Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels in four balls) and significant (Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Darren Sammy). It all added up to a match performance of 9 for 128, the second best figures for an Indian bowler on debut. As the time nears to pick a squad to tour Australia, these are numbers will reverberate like a PA announcement in a silent stadium. On Tuesday though, Ashwin stirred up the thin but enthusiastic crowd, storming through the West Indies line-up and giving India something gettable to chase.

Watching Ashwin's performance through the entire Test was his coach Sunil Subramaniam, whose crushing handshake at stumps reflected both satisfaction and joy. Ashwin had proved, Subramaniam said, "that he belongs at this level." Ashwin's skill, he said, "was never in doubt, but at the international level, it becomes a matter of the temperament. You never know about that until the occasion comes for the world at large to be convinced." Ashwin himself turned up to his media conference and said he had hoped to get a five-wicket haul, "and probably some more runs as well. Unfortunately the second part did not happen."

What did work today, worked just fine. Ashwin may have risen to the India ranks through the IPL and T20, but he has essentially been a four-season-old trooper in first-class cricket. He made his first-class debut just under five years ago, has 157 wickets from his 34 first-class games. "I've played a good amount of Ranji Trophy cricket," Ashwin said. "The grind of the four-day format helps develop a cricketer."

Somewhere in his memory lay a small fact that led to Samuels' spectacular dismissal. Ashwin said, "I thought I plotted him well in that over. He was probably playing for the turn and worried about the bat-pad to short-leg but probably if you have played in Delhi and the Kotla, you do know that it won't go to short-leg. Unfortunately he did not know that and he was looking for the spin and it went straight on."

It was, his coach said, the wicket that got Ashwin's "creativity" going. To maximise his 6ft2in, Ashwin could have done with a track that offered slightly more bounce than the Kotla's random low-rise offerings, but he wasn't grumbling at the end of the day.

"It is not my bread and butter as I need spin and bounce. At least if there is bounce you can see the ball carrying to short-leg and silly point but there was nothing for the batsmen or the bowlers. If the batter is not patient enough you can get a wicket. Today I tried to bowl a wee bit quicker and onto the stumps and it payed off." Ashwin speaks expansively and openly about his game, saying he had decided to increase "airspeed" talking about bowling a little faster at key moments, "so that whatever little variation and bounce that the wicket could offer, could really pay off."

He got two to jump at the Delhi Gate end, hitting Devendra Bishoo on his fingers, and then had Darren Sammy bowled from one that shot off the turf after pitching. The most important wicket was that of Chanderpaul, the one batsman who had played him with confidence in the first innings, hitting a six and scoring 38 off 34 balls. Ashwin decided to try a different angle against Chanderpaul, and had him lbw from over the wicket.

" At least if there is bounce you can see the ball carrying to short-leg and silly point but there was nothing for the batsmen or the bowlers. If the batter is not patient enough you can get a wicket. Today I tried to bowl a wee bit quicker and onto the stumps and it payed off."

Subramaniam said he had always fancied Ashwin's chances against Chanderpaul. "At the international level, where the bounce is predictable, the highly skilled and technically accomplished batsmen will delay shot making... on a wicket like this, where the ball keeps low, it only needs a microsecond of delay to make it matter for anyone bowling that line."

The first innings had not turned out the way Ashwin wanted, but he insisted, not because of nerves. "Yes, the body wasn't moving the way I wanted it to in the first few overs. I didn't know whether my hip was turning, whether the release was perfect and all I was doing was concentrating because I have never seen a wicket that is so less receptive to so many revolutions on the ball. Frankly I thought I was doing something wrong and contributed myself to it by not moving my hip enough. All these were the things that were weighing in my mind before I went in for the lunch break but as time went on, I just had to handle myself." Perhaps that is what is actually called nerves.

He handled himself like a pro in the second innings, though Subramaniam admitted that "it helped when you have a side like the West Indies to bowl against, who have batsmen just off a good tour of Bangladesh, who will start playing their shots early." The batsmen scored off only 24 of his total of 129 balls in the second innings, the shortage of boundary freebies troubling all who faced him.

The two men spoke on Monday night, Ashwin being told that he was under no pressure "functionally" - as in all he didn't have to do anything more dramatic than what he was used to doing, exercising control, but do so under the conditions at his feet. The Kotla wicket, Subramaniam said, was behaving like several others in India, merely settling in after being re-laid. The more matches that are played, the better their behaviour will be. He didn't think poorly of the Kotla, he said. "It is not vicious... whenever something has to happen in Indian cricket, it always happens here. It was the wicket that marked Anil's (Kumble) comeback in the Irani Trophy. It's the place where the ten wickets happened."

The Kotla is the place that has marked his ward's arrival in the big league. Comparisons with Kumble were inescapable. They were based on Ashwin's height, accuracy, hand-clapping wicket-celebration and general South Indian-ness. There is much distance to be covered for that to be a reasonable resemblance. Yet, regardless of the future, Ashwin and his coach will always have the Kotla.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 10, 2011, 5:04 GMT

    Ever time I saw a four scored off Ashwin's over he followed up with a wicket in the next ball or at least the next over. He is one of those cricketer who tries hard and never loses his mind while doing so. I hope Dhoni gives some more support to players like Ashwin who may not be the best guy for a North Indian to hang out but a thinking spinner who you can rely on. From the day he started playing for CSK we loved him and we are proud of Ashwin as a Tamilan...... GO BUDDY ASHWIN U WILL GET BETTER

  • Dummy4 on November 9, 2011, 13:18 GMT

    I hope the selectors don't overplay Ashwin in T20s/ODIs. Like what happened to Harbhajan, Ashwin willl become a defensive bowler if that happens. He and Ojha should only be played in Tests as match-winners. For T20s/ODIs we can get by with Rahul Sharma, Jadeja and part-timers like Yuvraj, Raina, Yusuf, Tiwary and Rohit.

  • Rahul on November 9, 2011, 5:54 GMT

    As many experts say cricket is not a game played between 22 yards on the pitch but in your mind. Ashwin comes across as a thinking cricketer. He hardly used his carrom ball in the test as he was trying mainly variations in to his stock off spin delivery. Good to see selectors showing faith in the youngster and he repaying it. Also we should not forget Ojha who did all that was asked of him. Only thing that bothers me about Ojha is he still hasn't managed to earn the confidence of his skipper Dhoni. Dhoni used him sparingly in the second eanings even though Ojha had taken 6 first eanings wickets. Anyways wish both of the lots of good luck for good of Indian cricket.

  • Dummy4 on November 9, 2011, 5:03 GMT

    Bhajji is going to find it very tough to make it back to the Indian cricket team, what with Ojha getting 8 and Ashwin getting 9 wickets in this match. Also, Bhajji has not really done anything of note in his first Ranji outing either. Thats actually understating his mediocre performance of 0/92 on his home ground vs UP.

  • babi on November 9, 2011, 5:02 GMT

    Bhajji tosses the ball and hopes it will do something on its own. Ashwin is a thinking bowler who has a lot of weapons in his armor. But Bhajji will make a comeback, after all he shares the same marketing company as Dhoni's.

  • Sikandar on November 9, 2011, 4:01 GMT

    Ashwin, you are the man! you sure know your cricket ABCDs better than many cricketers out there who just bowl [without outsmarting the opponent]! I am sure your dad's cricket knowledge is of immense help, is refreshing to see this young lad thinks and executes at the same time and NOT just talks rubbish on the ground!!! [Sreesanth, are you listening!!] Welcome to Indian Test team, kid!! hope you serve our nation well!!

  • Rajagopal on November 9, 2011, 3:57 GMT

    Great talent and a great thinker of the game... when did we last hear someone talk so much on the art of bowling.... his press conference text should go into coaching manual...

  • Dummy4 on November 9, 2011, 3:48 GMT

    zaheer shud make it 2 aus tour wid match fitness ,ashwin wud b da 1st choice spinner on dat tour ishant pk n zaheer picking dem selves its yuvraJ LAST test series if he dunt do well it ill end of da road 4 him...

  • Nitin on November 9, 2011, 3:44 GMT

    @Gitapat- dropping dhoni and bringing karthik? LOL.On what basis? I suppose you are talking about batting, then mate you will be glad to know that, karthik averages 27 with bat in 23 test matches(mind you 23 test are enough chances), compare to dhoni's 38.Now do you reckon there is an important art known as 'CAPTAINCY' ? And of which Dhoni is the best in the world.Perioud.

  • Kavin on November 9, 2011, 3:31 GMT

    @ peterss - Kudos to Srikant for Dropping Bhajji? Dude It was Mohnder Amarnath who stood tal and dropped Bhajji, where Srikant and DHoni were still in favor to pick Bhajji again. It is Amarnath who brought these youngsters in the team, so kudos to him.

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