ravi’s ready to rumble in county scene
Dileep Premachandran explains how Worcestershire will benefit from the Indian spinner with a point to prove
As much as the lovely loop, drift, awkward bounce and variations, the Ashwin playbook is all about confidence
Cricket numbers seldom lie. But sometimes, they need to be viewed with a little more context, especially with three formats now in play. This is especially true of Ravichandran Ashwin, the world’s leading off-spinner, who will be on view at New Road in the final weeks of the County Championship season.
Indian players are seldom given permission to play county cricket these days, but this stint at Worcestershire will go ahead with the team management’s blessing. The official word is that the month of county cricket will help Ashwin get acclimatised to the kind of pitches that India will encounter across five Tests next summer. The last two tours have ended in 4-0 and 3-1 towellings, and lack of familiarity with England’s unique conditions has been cited as one of the reasons for India’s dismal displays.
Ashwin, as much as he’s looking forward to the English challenge, recognises that his white-ball career is at a crossroads. India are playing a Sri Lankan side in freefall at the moment, and by the time he finishes his time with Worcestershire in late September, the home ODI series against Australia, the world champions, will be almost over.
Since the World Cup semi-final defeat to Australia in March 2015, where he was India’s best bowler by a distance (1-42), Ashwin has seen both sides of the success-failure coin. In Tests, he has been peerless, taking 173 wickets at 21.54 in just 28 matches. There have been an astonishing 17 five-wicket hauls. When India pick a Test team, in any conditions, he would pretty much be the second name on the sheet, after Virat Kohli.
That hasn’t been the case in ODIs. The decision to rest him from the ODI leg of the Sri Lanka series means that Ashwin has played, as of August 22, only 15 of India’s 38 ODIs since the last World Cup. At that point, he had 133 wickets at 31.93 from 96 matches. The economy rate was 4.85. Any way you diced it, those were outstanding numbers, in an age when miscues carry for six, and pitches are more lifeless than a Giza mummy.
Since then, he has taken just 17 wickets at 40.58. The economy rate has bloated to 5.36. But even in that indifferent sample, there have been some key performances. When he returned to the XI after a year away, in January 2017, he was instrumental in winning the three-match series against England. His three wickets in Cuttack, where India’s 381 beat England’s 366 – just to give you an idea of the abominable conditions bowlers faced – were Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler.
Benched for the first two games of the Champions Trophy, he came into what was effectively a knockout match against South Africa and took the vital wicket of Hashim Amla. He was nowhere near his best in the final against Pakistan (0-70 in ten overs), but that should be seen in the context of the punishment that slow bowlers on both sides took on that Oval pitch.
On commentary, Shane Warne spoke of how Ashwin and Kohli didn’t seem to be in sync when it came to tactics. And it’s that which should worry Ashwin the most. In his final year as limited-overs captain, MS Dhoni also seemed to lose faith in him.
In the semi-final of the World T20, as West Indies romped past 192, Ashwin bowled only two of his allotted four overs. Against batsmen who haven’t always been the best against wily spin, it was Kohli’s part-time medium pace that Dhoni turned to in the final stages.
Ashwin has always been a candid and interesting interviewee, but he won’t rock the boat at this stage, with the Kohli-Ravi Shastri combine just having embarked on a new innings. Shastri, a muchmisunderstood man in his day, should recognise what he’s going through though. As much as the lovely loop, drift, awkward bounce and other variations that he can summon up, the Ashwin playbook is all about confidence.
In the Test arena, where he knows he’s the main man, that reservoir is full. In the abbreviated formats, he gives the impression of one who doesn’t know whether to stick or twist. The imagination and rolls of the dice that typify his Test bowling are seldom seen in the blue shirt, where containment is the name of the game. With Ravindra Jadeja also struggling to pick up the wickets – it was that duo that played a huge part in India’s Champions Trophy win in 2013 – India have often struggled in the middle overs of matches. And like Ashwin, Jadeja too has missed more than he’s played.
sFor now, Kuldeep Yadav,Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel have a chance to impress, while Ashwin watches from more than a continent away. But the man who revived his Test career after a cruel axing in late 2013 is far from done in oneday cricket. For now, it’s county batsmen who will have to bear the brunt.
He’s a sm-Ash hit! Worcestershire are getting ready to unleash India star Ravi Ashwin, centre