Sanjay Manjrekar

Notes on Amir, Ashwin and Kohli

Watching them at the Asia Cup was to revel in high-quality bowling and batting

Sanjay Manjrekar
Sanjay Manjrekar
Mohammad Amir: has pace, swing, a mean effective bouncer and effective slower balls  •  AFP

Mohammad Amir: has pace, swing, a mean effective bouncer and effective slower balls  •  AFP

It was a smart move to make the Asia Cup a T20 tournament or it would have proved to be a hindrance for the participating teams in their preparation for the World T20. This is the kind of pragmatism we need in cricket administration.
As it turned out the Asia Cup was a perfect sparring round for India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh before the real contest begins.
India looked the best team on paper and proved to be the best on the ground too.
As I said in my last article, for once the Indian bowling unit matches its batting. The wicket-taking bowling attack is the main reason for the consistency we see in India's performance.
To win consistently in T20s is hard. India have now won ten out of 11 matches this year.
Three cricketers really impressed me in the Asia Cup: Mohammad Amir, R Ashwin and Virat Kohli.
Actually, I am floored by Amir. After the match against India, I tweeted that it was rare to be a complete cricketer at such an early stage of one's career. Amir bowls like a veteran of 75 Tests and 200 one-dayers.
He ticks all the boxes needed to be a complete fast bowler, starting with pace. His average speed is 140kph - a reminder that you don't need to be big and strong to bowl fast. It's enough to have the right technique and attitude.
Both Rohit Sharma and Amir have shown us that you can hit mighty sixes and bowl at 145kph even if you aren't big-built.
Amir can also bowl an accurate swinging yorker with the new ball, like Mitchell Starc does - a difficult skill to master. That's how he trapped Rohit lbw first ball in Dhaka, and when the umpire turned down the appeal, Amir responded with yet another superb delivery, this time ensuring that one of the most dangerous limited-overs batsmen left the field.
Amir can also bowl short and cut the ball off the pitch, which is how he got Ajinkya Rahane, who was a bit naïve in the way he faced up the challenge. You cannot walk into a shot when the bowler is swinging and bowling cutters.
The (allegedly) Duncan Fletcher-prescribed "wide stance and forward thrust" can only work on flat pitches against bowlers who bowl straight lines.
Amir also has a mean bouncer and effective slower deliveries, and he can bowl all these variations accurately under pressure.
Offspinner R Ashwin is bowling so well these days that he has reached that stage of respect that Muttiah Muralitharan, Saeed Ajmal and Sunil Narine commanded in limited-overs cricket in their prime.
Batsmen try to simply play out these bowlers' four or ten overs without getting out and then look for runs off other bowlers in the attack.
In Tests, Ashwin relies on his offspinners completely and is loath to try too many variations. In 50 overs he indulges himself a little more, adding floaters and the carrom ball to his main offering. But in T20s he lets himself go completely and seems to just have fun.
Every ball is different, and he relies on his new, and less obvious, version of the carrom ball to deny that friendly angle to right-hand batsmen looking to play offspinners on the leg side.
Like Amir, Ashwin is able to bowl his variations exactly where he wants to. But the real secret of his success is the speed at which he bowls these variations.
Like Murali, Ajmal and Narine, Ashwin bowls slow, even in T20s. Only an exceptional batsman can tonk a spinner who is giving him no pace to work with.
One batsman who stood up to Amir's bowling was Virat Kohli, who showed his class and the value he carries as a player in this Indian team.
Kohli had a couple of close shaves early on against Amir as he tried to typically dominate him by going towards him. But once he realised he was facing an exceptional bowler who wasn't bowling in straight lines, Kohli became humble as a competitor, giving Amir the respect he deserved and, importantly, changed his basic footwork.
Instead of using the forward thrust, he started playing from inside the batting crease, waiting for the ball to reach him rather than going towards it, which is his primary approach as a batsman.
Kohli's consistency and his ability to change his basic game to counter an unforeseen, extraordinary challenge are two important yardsticks used to measure greatness.
All that remains between Virat and batting greatness now, I guess, is that vulnerability outside the off stump.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar