ravi’s ready to rum­ble in county scene

Dileep Premachan­dran ex­plains how Worces­ter­shire will ben­e­fit from the In­dian spin­ner with a point to prove

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

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.

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

He’s a sm-Ash hit! Worces­ter­shire are get­ting ready to un­leash In­dia star Ravi Ash­win, cen­tre

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