Photo Credit: Indranil Mukherjee / AFP
The way it looks right now, it would seem that Ravichandran Ashwin would be able turn the ball on even the moon.
The 29-year old lanky off-spinner from Chennai is in the form of his life. Toss him a ball and he’ll get you a wicket. Against Sri Lanka in the third Twenty20 at Ranchi on Sunday, he could have had a wicket every ball. From his first ball to the 24th, no batsman had any clue to what was happening with them. He picked up four wickets in his 24 balls and gave away only eight runs. Sri Lanka’s hapless batsmen were so beguiled by Ashwin’s trickery that they failed to even harmlessly pat the ball away. They spectacularly imploded after two wickets in his very first over, never to recover and gave India a crushing 2-1 series win.
Coming from a country like India which has a long and venerable tradition of spin bowling, there has been a tendency to downplay Ashwin’s achievements. Since he burst on to the scene, the criticism he has received has been, at times, scathing. When he first started, he was dismissed as just a one-off wonder from the Indian Premier League. When he started doing reasonably well, he was denounced as someone who only stopped the flow of runs. Critics harped on his impatience and were vocal that he tended to get frustrated too soon.
Even now at the peak of his cricketing career, murmurs persist about his lack of potency on non-subcontinental conditions. Which is extremely unfair to a man who has worked hard on his bowling and has become a rare commodity in international cricket – a bowler who has achieved mastery over all three formats.
At home in all formats
Ashwin’s statistics over the last few months make for staggering reading. But the one thing that jumps out is his consistency. Whether it has been Test match cricket, One Day Internationals or Twenty20s, Ashwin has been among the wickets in almost every match India have played in the last one year. Against Australia in the ODI series in January, he may have only played two games but came back resoundingly in the Twenty20 series that followed, with four wickets in three games.
As any professional cricketer will testify to, being equally good in all three formats of the game is not an easy proposition which is why international cricket has recently seen the birth of specialists for each format. For spinners, it is even tougher. A Test match requires a completely different set of skills emphasising wicket-taking while limited-overs cricket tends to emphasise more on run-saving abilities
Ashwin though has been that rare spinner, at home in every format. He carries an extremely intelligent head on his shoulders, ensuring he is ahead of the batsman at every step. As a bowler, he has matured – instead of trying to take a wicket every ball, he identifies a batsman’s weaknesses and preys on it relentlessly. Each of his four wickets in Ranchi were products of planning where batsmen had no clue about which direction the ball would turn.
At 29, he is at the peak of his powers. Watching Ashwin bowl is a throwback to the great Indian spin masters of yore. Ashwin will only get better and if he continues in this vein, he may well be the next great Indian spinner to join the league of those exalted legends.
Third Twenty20: India (84/1 in 13.5 overs) beat Sri Lanka (82 all out in 18 overs) by nine wickets