A spell of 4-0-15-1 is an exceptional return in any T20 game, leave alone at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, against AB de Villiers. R Ashwin's description as a "right-arm offbreak bowler" is only for TV graphics and his ESPNcricinfo profile - his bag of tricks on view included legbreaks, carrom balls, the arm ball, and a couple of what he labels the "reverse carrom".
With all those variations, he went through his four overs without conceding a single boundary, keeping de Villiers guessing and outfoxing Moeen Ali with a clever variation of length along the way. His 12 wickets this season are comfortably the most by a fingerspinner, and only behind Imran Tahir and Yuzvendra Chahal among all spinners. All this while he's gone at an economy rate of 7.18. At the end of another high-scoring encounter in Bengaluru, Ashwin's figures stood out in stark contrast to the other spinners on the night. They went for 101 in their 11 overs combined, picking up two wickets. Notably, none of RCB's three spinners completed their quota.
Ashwin's never bought into the hype around wristspinners, and by making himself more than a conventional offbreak bowler he seems to be adapting to the times rather well.
What's up with AB against spin?
It's been eight months since AB de Villiers quit international cricket, and one thing he definitely hasn't been facing regularly since then is high-quality spin bowling.
De Villiers has probably been Royal Challengers' most consistent batsman this season: he has now made five fifty-plus scores in ten innings for them. But that has been despite his struggles against spin, and thanks to his utter domination against pace. Sample some of these numbers: he has hit a six roughly every 34 balls off spinners - of all kinds - and has a strike rate of 116.5, a lowly figure rarely seen next to his name in T20s. And it's not like he's been getting away with playing the spinners out - they have dismissed him five times, and his average of 19.6 was enough to put him among the tournament's five worst batsmen against spin before Wednesday's game.
R Ashwin and co seemed to have done their homework on all of this. It was pace off the ball right after the Powerplay. Between overs 7 and 14, Kings XI Punjab fed de Villiers only five balls of pace. Against 18 balls of spin from the two Ashwins, he managed just a single boundary. The senior Ashwin managed to keep him in check, giving away just seven runs off nine balls, with a heady mix of variations, from the carrom ball to the odd googly.
Overall, de Villiers made only 22 off 18 balls against the spinners, but he made up handily against the quicks, smashing them for 60 off a mere 26 balls.
Kohli maintains perfect record against Ashwin
Ashwin has had his share of highs as Kings XI Punjab captain, but nearing the end of his second season, there's one side they haven't beaten under him: Virat Kohli's Royal Challengers.
With 27 needed off the final over - a similar equation to what MS Dhoni chased down the other night - Ashwin began by carting Umesh Yadav's slower ball straight down the ground. The next ball, though, his drive down the ground didn't have enough on it to clear long-on. A leaping Kohli timed his jump perfectly, and followed it up with an elaborate send-off, which seemed to involve a Mankad gesture. The customary handshakes followed at the end, but the head-to-head between the captains reads: Kohli 4, Ashwin 0.