<
>

R Ashwin unleashes his bag of tricks, and treats, at old laboratory

R Ashwin and KL Rahul celebrate the dismissal of Shane Watson BCCI

When Luis Figo returned to Camp Nou as part of the opposition in 2002, the same fans who had once worshipped him were back, this time to jeer him. They even threw a severed pig head at his feet. While club loyalties don't run as deep in cricket yet, the return of R Ashwin, the original Chennai Super King, to Chepauk was the theme of the evening on Saturday.

He pulled off one trick after another to hush his former franchise and their fans. Briefly, at least. He was even on a hat-trick at one point and throttled MS Dhoni with proactive field placements, but the crowd was firmly behind their thala.

As it turned out, Dhoni didn't face a single delivery from Ashwin, but the duel between the offspinner and the rest of the Super Kings was fun to watch.

Ashwin took the new ball - like he used to do for Super Kings earlier - and Shane Watson greeted him "home" with a rasping slog-sweep. Ashwin then took himself out of the attack, and watched Faf du Plessis ping a four over his head at mid-off. Andrew Tye and Sam Curran also copped punishment, but Ashwin egged them on.

Super Kings were 55 for none in seven overs. Kings XI needed a wicket, and Ashwin brought himself back and delivered the breakthrough by flicking a carrom ball to have Watson hole out to deep midwicket. Ashwin took flight and punched his fist animatedly. It was not just a celebration. It was a statement.

Ashwin then briefly paused in his action and darted one wide outside off. Suresh Raina skipped back and slashed a single to sweeper cover, but it was enough to draw cheers from the crowd.

He then rolled out a surfeit of experiments. It was coming, wasn't it?

After all, Chennai has been the laboratory for his experiments. He mastered the carrom ball at the Super Kings nets, and more recently he worked on bowling legspin with his friend and coach VRS Guru Kedarnath at his academy Gen-Next. A few local reporters even claim that Ashwin has bowled left-arm all-sorts in lower-division cricket here.

He bowled right-arm all-sorts in his second over on Saturday. He sent a seam-up ball to du Plessis, hit the bat harder than du Plessis had expected, and then did a Kedar Jadhav. He went wide of the crease and unleashed a low-arm slider against Raina, but it turned out to be an off-side wide.

At the other end, Ashwin's understudy and namesake Murugan Ashwin, a former Super Kings net bowler himself, kept attacking the stumps and ramped up the pressure on the hosts.

Just when du Plessis was set to kick into a higher gear, Ashwin got him with the carrom ball - a variation du Plessis might have tackled several times at the Super Kings nets but wasn't good enough for on the day. The next one was a slider from around the wicket, and Raina was bowled. Ashwin was on a roll, but there was an eerie silence in the stands.

The fans found their voices briefly when Ambati Rayudu kept out the hat-trick ball. Chepauk then raised itself to a massive roar when their favourite son Dhoni strode out.

Immediately, Ashwin packed the infield: four men on the off side and two on the leg side, including a short midwicket and a mid-on. Dhoni's favourite leg-side jab was cut off, and look who was at short midwicket: Chris Gayle, who has been outsmarted quite a few times by Dhoni and Ashwin - most famously in the 2011 IPL final.

Dhoni got off to a typically slow start - he was on 14 off 15 balls - but with Ashwin (4-0-23-3) out of the way, he tore into Curran. The crowd got what it wanted: some big hits from Dhoni. Ashwin got what he wanted: a telling impact against Super Kings on his return to Chepauk.