Ashwin in 'best frame of mind' despite wickets dearth
When he bowled Corey Anderson in Auckland, it was the first wicket R Ashwin had taken for close to 80 overs. The previous one had come seven weeks earlier, on December 8, when he dismissed Quinton de Kock in the second ODI against South Africa in Durban. Thereafter, he had gone wicketless in the Centurion ODI, the Johannesburg Test and in Napier and Hamilton on the current tour of New Zealand.
It was not as if he was being taken apart each time he went without a wicket, but such a run can easily play on your mind. But Ashwin said he was in the "best frame of mind" and was not thinking too much about the lack of wickets. He had been dropped in favour of Ravindra Jadeja for the Durban Test after his failure to break through in Johannesburg, and said he had learned a lot from that tour.
"Honestly I was not reading or looking into anything," Ashwin said. "This is probably the best frame of mind I have been in. I have locked away a few things. I had a tour of South Africa which was quite a learning curve for me. I have decided if I am giving my best that is all I can do. I cannot go back reading articles and what people are saying about me. It does not make sense. I just locked myself out. I spoke to Dhoni about a couple of things, to the coach, had chats with a few people I trust. I thought things were going alright. It can happen, you cannot keep taking wickets or making runs all the time. The frame of mind I was in helped me perform the way I did."
Ashwin said he was feeling satisfied with the way he was bowling and had worked out how he had to go about the job away from home. "I have sorted out what length and what kind of bowling needs to be done. There are certain ways you need to construct a spell abroad. I have learnt that and put that into practice."
The new fielding restrictions have made it harder for bowlers in general. With lesser help available for spinners in overseas conditions, Ashwin said it had become difficult to look for wickets even if the batsmen were playing their shots and taking risks. "That particular thing falls out of the window with the current scenario. If there is spin and you are playing with the conditions helping you, then of course there is an opportunity to look to get a wicket but if it is stacked against you then you are fighting against something which is like a wall. You cannot box against a wall. You cannot fight against the conditions and go head on and take it on.
"You definitely tend to be targeted as a spinner away from home. With the five-fielder [within the circle] rule you can only look to give a single. You cannot err on lengths. The batsman knows if you have your sweeper up you are not going to err on the shorter side so you are giving away some cues to the batsman in terms of what field you are setting, and you cannot be foolish enough to try and fool the batsman. They are going to look for boundaries. You have to be really smart and try and make sure you do what the team requires. It is easy to say wickets are not coming so I will look for wickets, but you end up giving 20-30 runs extra and you have to get it back at the end of the day."
Before the Auckland game, Dhoni had said one also had to look at what stage of the innings India were making Ashwin bowl. "I am using him in the Powerplay, in the slog after the 40th over also. You have to see all these things," Dhoni said. "If you keep saying he is not getting wickets, then that will put pressure on him and in turn what may happen is he will be bowling the 42nd or 43rd over and look for a wicket and it may add another 6-10 runs. I am quite happy with how he has been bowling. If I try to use him upfront, he will be slightly less expensive. As of now both spinners are doing their job quite well. Looking at the conditions, I am practically judging them."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo