November 10, 2012

How Ashwin can turn his class to world-class

He has a terrific temperament for spin bowling and doesn't alter his plans just because he gets hit for a six. All he needs to do now is work on his fitness

I saw R Ashwin for the first time in the IPL in 2008. It was easy to like him. He looked a typical Tamil Nadu spinner, one with the striking spinner's skills and a sturdy temperament. He looked like he had bowled plenty of overs in his young life and that bowling offspin was second nature to him. He had a very natural bowling action, with easy control over the ball, giving you the impression that to bowl accurately wasn't hard for him and that he was instead occupied with working out other offspin skills. What appealed most to me was his temperament. And that gets severly tested and exhibited in a tournament like the IPL. Ashwin came out with flying colours in nearly every game.

For someone that young and inexperienced at the first-class level, he looked unperturbed when batsmen went after him. The ball a spinner bowls just after he has been hit for a six tells you a lot about him. Navjot Sidhu, the former India opening batsman, who I played a lot of cricket with, had a theory he used all through his career. After running down the pitch and hitting a spinner for six, he'd stay back in the crease, waiting for the inevitable flatter, quicker ball, to square-cut off the back foot for four. If Sidhu had played against Ashwin, he would have made a mental note that here was a different spinner, for Ashwin would still toss the next delivery up after watching one disappear for six. It was incredible to see MS Dhoni give the new ball to Ashwin every time a Chris Gayle-type player took strike in the IPL, and Ashwin invariably rose to the occasion.

No bowler likes getting hit, but Ashwin's strength is that he does not mind getting hit as much as most spinners do. It's an area where he is clearly ahead of Harbhajan Singh as a lead spinner. Every time you watch Harbhajan in action, you get the feeling he loathes getting hit and gives you the impression that curbing runs is a priority for him. If you wonder why he doesn't bowl a lot fuller than he does, or why he bowls the middle- and leg-stump lines more than the outside-off-stump line, which can often be the more wicket-taking one, my guess is it's because he does not like getting tonked over midwicket or long-on for six. Ashwin doesn't mind this as much. After hitting Harbhajan for a six, Sidhu would definitely have square-cut the next ball for four.

There are, of course, some areas where Harbhajan has an advantage over Ashwin, like in the amount of overspin they generate. But this not a comparative exercise between the two, more a study of Ashwin.

The middle-stump line that Ashwin bowls - with the carrom ball as a variation - is his insurance when in trouble. It will fetch him some easy wickets down the order, which means he can end up with three wickets even if he has bowled poorly for most of an innings

I think the wonderful line that Ashwin bowls has developed naturally, without him realising how critical it is to his success. The middle-stump line that he bowls - with the carrom ball as a variation - is his insurance when in trouble. It will fetch him some easy wickets down the order, which means he can end up with three wickets even if he has bowled poorly for most of an innings. On good days that line will help him run through sides. When his tail is up, Ashwin will get you six or seven wickets, instead of three or four.

It is the line match-winning bowlers bowl which means that nine times out of ten their deliveries will go on to hit the stumps. So if a batsman misses, while the three-wicket bowler winces in disappointment that he has not got a lbw or bowled (think Ishant Sharma, here), an Ashwin or an Anil Kumble would have got the wicket instead.

However, the one thing that holds Ashwin back from being a chief contributor to India's success, especially overseas, is his physical fitness, especially strength. We have seen how his fitness affects his fielding and running between the wickets, but the critical damage it does is to his bowling. Like most Indian spinners, Ashwin failed to make a mark on Australian pitches when India toured last year. Nathan Lyon, his Australian counterpart, got more spin and bounce in Adelaide because by habit Aussie spinners bowl not just with their arms and fingers but their whole body.

With Indian pitches being "ready to spin", a spinner here does not need to make a huge effort to spin the ball; arms and fingers are enough. But you need to use your whole body to get turn and bounce from an unresponsive pitch. That is why I was very excited when I saw Anustup Majumdar, a part-time legspinner, bowl East Zone to victory in the Duleep Trophy final recently. Here was an Indian spinner using his whole body in harmony to bowl every delivery of legspin. No wonder he got the ball to spin quickly and bounce on a very slow and dry pitch. If Majumdar takes his bowling more seriously, he has a lot going for him as a legspinner.

I am not a big fan of cricketers doing too much work in the gym, but Ashwin would do well to spend more time in an air-conditioned gym than in the heat of a Chennai ground.

Mind you, Ashwin does use his body a little more than most Indian spinners do, but because his body lacks strength, he is not able to get the ball to fizz as much on unresponsive pitches.

He has had his share of international success. He has been able to keep Harbhajan out of the team since making his debut. That in itself is a great achievement. He is a star T20 bowler and a good 50-over bowler, but he will know that his real worth will be measured in Tests, where the batsman isn't necessarily trying to hit every ball for six or four.

With England and Australia touring India in the next few months, Ashwin will have a chance to enhance his reputation further as an international spinner. England may be the easier challenge of the two, but if Ashwin can get physically stronger, I believe, no one can stop him from becoming a spinner that Indian cricket will be proud of in the years to come.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 13, 2012, 21:52 GMT

    " Every time you watch Harbhajan in action, you get the feeling he loathes getting hit and gives you the impression that curbing runs is a priority for him" ...targeting Harbhajan was uncalled for. When you think of it, you should loathe getting hit and curbing runs is pretty much the priority for IPL matches. Sanjay Manjrekar was himself was thrown out of the team after a few test matches. He was too slow for ODI's that precipitated his layoff. I cannot believe this guy actually writes about IPL, he wouldnt be allowed to bring water to Harbhajan.

  • mark on November 13, 2012, 19:03 GMT

    Ashwin does not mind getting hit....mmm nice line.. yeah he was not bothering at all when Watson & Warner were hitting him out of the ground in the T20 cup match with Aus few weeks before....hopefully KP may be able to repeat it

  • Cricket on November 12, 2012, 18:44 GMT

    Ashwin can turn into a world class spinner by taking wickets in match-winning performances on all surfaces all over the world. 'No bowler likes getting hit' - wrong. I remember seeing Kumble set up batsmen by bowling a boundary ball two overs in a row and them getting him out in the third over. Sometimes you have to sacrifice runs to get the wicket.

  • Dummy4 on November 12, 2012, 10:00 GMT

    I don't knw why people criticizing ashwin...he might nt be d best , but is gud enough to sustain at international level...he might nt hv d magic delivery (doosra) like ajmal but he has carrom ball (at d same tym wid clear action)...n iam sure in 5 yrs or so he wil be abv bhajii.... he takes wicket n I think dat is wat shud matter....he was a failure in aus but it was his fst series...also the great murali was also a failure in Aust... so all u ppl jst chill let dis guy play as long as he performs ..

  • Rakesh on November 12, 2012, 7:32 GMT

    @ joiedevivre - well said. People like tiwary , kohli are exceptions. Tiwary will get his chance soon with SRT nearing hi retirement unless his spot goes to one of the most talented TN/CSk players.

  • Rakesh on November 12, 2012, 7:29 GMT

    First and foremost he needs to get fit. He moves around like an injured elephant. Even an elephant may overtake him with 2 legs. Second he needs to start thinking himself as world class and bowl with more flight and not get defensive quickly.

  • Kalpesh on November 12, 2012, 1:29 GMT

    Is the issue of physically unfit only holds good for Ashwin? Ofcourse not. There has never been any doubt as far as skills are concerned in an Indian Cricketer, the issue has always been physical strength and metal toughness. Very few Indian Cricketers can lay claim to being physically and mentally strong. Ishant Sharma for all the abilities he is blessed with is an fine example and ever flattering to deceive Rohit Sharma another example. When you watch someone like Ashwin you get the impression he is lazy and doesn't like putting those hard yards and once again this holds good for most Indian bowlers, some of the young batters are fine fielders but the bowlers are dismal to say the least. With the quality of outfields improving in most of the cities bad fielding or being bad athelets in just not an excuse any more. Only reason like I said is Indian bowlers are skillful but very lazy.

  • Senthil on November 11, 2012, 20:11 GMT

    @ LillianThomson, May be Ashwin lacks in his fitness but not ability. It doesn't matter he is not taken 200 FC wickets, he is going to be the fastest Indian to take 50 Test wickets at Ahmadabad and by the end of the series he will break in to top 10 test bowler ranking as well. He has been promoted beyond his FC ability since no Indian spinner can have a better stats when playing FC matches in India since Indian Batsman plays spin that well unlike England, if you have any doubt look at TN vs Karnataka Ranji match to know that the pitch started turning square from day 1 but still only 7 wickets has fallen in 3 complete days. He may not want to be selected in those countries, but definitely he will be selected for World XI.

  • Cool on November 11, 2012, 17:57 GMT

    @getsetgopk There isn't one international quality bowler in Pakistan. And Pakistani batsmen's skills are legendary - PCB is considering having them play against women's teams so they can at least score some runs there. And of course what can we say about Pakistani team's choking skills - books and books have been written about that. And don't worry about Indian teams rankings, we were at the top not too long ago, and will be there soon. Pak team on the other hand has been very consistently scraping the bottom and there's no hope there for your either.

  • Srinivas on November 11, 2012, 17:02 GMT

    I think Ashwin was involved in an accident as a child that broke his hip. That's the reason why he is slightly hampered. He did his best to be this quick on his legs. Bravo Ashwin!

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