Ashwin’s challenging series

karthikkrishnaswamy Posted: Jan 22, 2013 at 0227 hrs
Chandigarh Point the seam somewhere between fine leg and deep backward square. Fizz it out of your fingers, and put some body behind it. This should give you a healthy smear of side-spin and a generous squeeze of over-spin, ensuring both drift and dip to confound the batsman’s reading of line and length. If you land it just right, like Ravichandran Ashwin did against Tim Bresnan at Ranchi, you have the perfect off-spinner’s dismissal, bowled through the gate.

This sort of dismissal is a rare sight in limited-overs cricket, and it’s likely to become rarer still in the years to come.

In the immediate future, Ashwin is unlikely to repeat it in the fourth ODI.

On Monday afternoon, a jet plane flew high over the PCA Stadium nets, dividing the cloudless sky into two unambiguous halves with a perfectly straight vapour trail. During the fourth ODI, balls delivered by the spinners won’t be so utterly lacking in deviation, but traditionally, the wicket at Mohali, especially during winter, doesn’t offer too much purchase. If this is the case, Ashwin’s line of attack is sure to change.

At Ranchi, the pitch provided Ashwin enough grip to permit him to pitch it well outside off stump. And he did so frequently. But most of these balls turned enough to head down the leg-side. His wagon wheel showed that 24 of the 36 runs he conceded — and 18 of the English batsmen’s 26 scoring shots against him — came through the leg side.

This has for long been the preferred mode of operation for off-spinners in ODIs. Pitch outside off on helpful wickets, or hug off-and-middle or even middle-and-leg on flatter decks, and make the batsman play with the spin, towards a well-protected on side. Even the big hits with the spin — the lofted drive over mid on, the slog sweep over cow corner — are easier to pull off against balls turning in from outside off, as demonstrated by Joe Root in Ashwin’s first over.

Leg-side trap

Now, with only four fielders permitted on the boundary rope, off spinners simply cannot afford to give batsmen room to free their arms. Ashwin himself discovered this in the second ODI in Kochi, when Samit Patel spoiled his figures by tonking him for three fours and a six in his final over, twice hitting him with the turn and twice giving himself room to go against it.

Consequently, the already prevalent tendency among off spinners to protect the leg side and bowl straight will only grow more exaggerated. Zimbabwe’s Prosper Utseya probably does this better than anyone else. His bowling average, over a career spanning 139 ODIs, is a modest 45.97, but his economy rate is a startling 4.27. And he achieves this sort of miserliness even against the best in the business, conceding less than five an over against Australia, India, Sri Lanka and the West Indies and just 3.54 an over against England.

Straight line

Ashwin is much taller than Utseya, and delivers from closer to the stumps, but bowls with a broadly similar action, chest-on, achieving little or no drift away from the right-hander, except for anomalous instances like that delivery to Bresnan. And while he is certainly a more threatening bowler, in terms of wicket-taking ability, his returns in ODIs have fallen away of late, his average and strike rate since the start of 2012 reading 36.76 and 46.0 as compared to 27.07 and 34.0 before that. His economy rate has remained unchanged at 4.8. Batsmen seem to have figured out how to survive against him, but they aren’t scoring any quicker.

The almost mandatory straighter line, forced on him by the rule change, will probably mean that Ashwin’s carrom ball becomes a little more useful, calling for its frequent deployment. Straighter line, more carrom balls — this is precisely what most experts are telling Ashwin to guard against in the longer format. It remains to be seen how he juggles the two challenges, at a critical stage of his career.

Mohali sideshow

Top Ranji performers as net bowlers

The BCCI has asked five bowlers — including Madhya Pradesh’s pacer Ishwar Pandey, Gujarat left-arm spinner Rakesh Dhurv and Jammu and Kashmir all-rounder Parvez Rasool — to report to the Indian team’s practice session on Tuesday evening in Mohali.

This decision to send some of the top performers in the Ranji Trophy was necessitated by the lack of quality net bowlers. Pandey, who is likely to join Pune Warriors, grabbed 48 wickets whereas Dhurv took 36 and Rasool had 33 wickets this season.

“With so many BCCI’s age group matches going on, we have come to know that the quality of net bowers is not good. So the BCCI has decided to send these five bowlers,” a BCCI official said. However, they will not travel to Dharamsala for the last ODI.

—Devendra Pandey

‘Home’ conditions for England in Mohali

As the cold wave in northern India got a second wind, the English were reminded of home. “The conditions here are more familiar for us than we had in the last couple of games. Obviously, we will feel nice to get a little bit of breeze and I am sure that will help our bowlers too,” said England opener Ian Bell after his team’s net session at PCA.

Though the game on Wednesday starts at noon, the players are expected to feel the nip in the air. Like was the case in the freezing conditions at New Delhi during the final ODI against Pakistan, the pacers will be holding sway. And England would expect their pace battery of Steve Finn, Jade Dernbach and Tim Bresnan to exploit the conditions. —Shalini Gupta