With limited-overs cricket becoming an increasingly unfamiliar environment for fingerspinners, R Ashwin has amped up his efforts to remain relevant. Over the past few years, he has been working towards becoming a wristspinner and was confident enough to try those variations in a domestic one-day match against Gujarat on Monday. He finished with figures of 2 for 38 in 9.1 overs as Tamil Nadu won the match by 76 runs.
Ashwin was one of the two top-ranked bowlers in Test cricket when he was given a break from India's ODI squad. Legspinner Yuzvendra Chahal and left-arm wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav were brought in to fill the void but now have become an intrinsic part of why India are so hard to beat in 50-overs cricket.
To keep pace with the competition, Ashwin has been practicing legspin himself. "This is part of my plan going into the IPL," Ashwin told reporters on the sidelines of Tamil Nadu-Gujarat Vijay Hazare Trophy match. "I am just trying to build my armoury. I used to bowl good legbreaks with my offspin action when I was playing league cricket in Chennai. Over a period of time, in a search to get my stock ball right, I obviously had to cut out a lot of those things. I had possessed a lot more variations. Having bowled offbreak as the stock ball for almost 10 years, trying to change things around is challenging. But I don't really settle for anything. At no point in my career, I thought 'this is it' and decided to settle for the rest of my career."
Ashwin said he has largely been working alone. "As of now everything is cooked by me. I try to take feedback from our coaches in my academy. L Balaji has been of great help. First time I was bowling legspin, we were working on some actions on how to gain momentum. How I can make a repeatable action work for me. For example, my arm doesn't go 45 degrees which is perfect for a legspinner. I am more upright. I have to adjust my action. It has been a painful ride. One day it will come out well in the nets, and the next day it won't come out all right. It will be frustrating. I have gone through the entire journey and have reached a place where I can land the ball where I want to."
The IPL presents the next opportunity for Ashwin to make a case for himself in limited-overs cricket. Although this season, when he goes home to play in Chennai, he would line up as part of the opposition: Kings XI Punjab bought him for INR 7.6 crore (USD 1.18 million approx).
"I was a tad disappointed because I have been here for the last ten years," Ashwin said. "Literally, I have owned that space around Chepauk. Every time I came on to bowl, the kind of roaring and cheering I got will always stick on in my head. Coming back there, to play against CSK, will probably motivate me more."