Pace variations working for Ashwin
India's spinners have been among the standout performers of the World T20, helping their side become the first to make the semi-finals by setting up three successive victories over Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh. While Amit Mishra has dismissed most batsmen for his team, R Ashwin has been harder to score off, his three wickets coming at an economy-rate of 5.16.
Not too long ago, Ashwin had a return of two wickets in nine matches in South Africa and New Zealand. Back in more helpful conditions in the subcontinent, he had a good Asia Cup during which he took nine wickets from four games at an economy-rate of 4.21.
After the semi-final spot was sealed with the win over Bangladesh, MS Dhoni said India's spinners had prospered in conditions which had given them some purchase. There has been decent turn and some bounce, but it is not that they have just had to pitch the ball and let the surface do the rest. While the dew has not been as copious as it has been in Chittagong, it has been a factor, Ashwin said. What has worked for the Indians is that they have varied their speeds, according to the offspinner.
"It's a bit of variation in pace more than anything else," Ashwin said. "That's what I've been looking to do - vary the length and vary the pace. You slow it down, you can get a bit of purchase. There were a few occasions when I slowed it down and the ball actually spun the other way (against Bangladesh). So I don't know what it is. The wicket is quite slow. You can't say it's been gripping. Obviously a leggie bowling over the top and slowing it down will give some revs on any wicket. That is one advantage but if you're prepared to slow it down and take pace off the ball, you're in with a chance here.
"There's been a conscious effort to vary the pace, not just slow it down. I've been bowling at different paces - 100kmph to 80 to 75. That's what I've been looking at, and trying to use the crease much more - whatever cues I took from the Asia Cup."
Tossing it up slowly and tempting batsmen has worked wonders for Mishra in the tournament , making him one of India's "potent forces", Ashwin said. "As a combination, every bowling unit benefits from each other's success and bowling strengths. Amit has been one of our potent forces in this tournament. We've been using him in all the situations where they actually have to go for it. He doesn't give you a lot of pace so when the batsmen are going after him, it's a big chance. Because he's going to slow it down even more."
Ashwin himself has often been used by Dhoni at the start as well as the closing stages of an innings, both times where batsmen are looking to get after bowlers. When asked how his approach changed on both occasions, Ashwin said that at the death, a bowler needed to "swallow his ego" so that he could restrict the batsmen.
"When you're starting off, you look to bowl as many good balls as possible in the areas you want. The disadvantage with that is that a good ball can be hit for four with less amount of risk because of the fielders not being on the fence. Whereas in the death, you have to be - this is my take on it, not that this is how it has to be - swallowing your ego and trying to make sure you're not giving runs away. Because there are people around who want to pick wickets at that time. For me, it's about swallowing your ego and making sure you've done the situation bit pretty well."
At the start of the Bangladesh innings, Ashwin did toss it up liberally, and picked up two wickets in two balls, his return of 4-0-15-2 making him the Man of the Match. Ashwin said such recognition did increase a bowler's confidence, the same way it did for a batsman. "For a batter who has not got runs for five-six games to actually get runs and get a man-of-the-match award - it's going to really boost his confidence. It's the same for a bowler. Unless you appraise the bowler with something like that you'll never find good bowlers coming through. That is one thing I really believe in. As much as a batsman is important, a bowler's confidence is also important. In that regard, yes, it's a big boost. But I've been living with it for the last three-four years, so I'm used to it right now."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo