Ravichandran Ashwin has come up by leaps and bounds in recent times that it was only natural for him to finish 2015 as the No. 1 Test bowler in the world. Beginning the New Year on such a pedestal only augurs well for India. With India set to play 13 Tests at home beginning in August, Ashwin will be a potent key to India’s results.
But Ashwin has an immediate task of seeing Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Team India reach the distance in the World T20 to be held in India in March-April.
The upcoming five ODIs in Australia followed by three Twenty20s will begin India’s preparations for the World T20 and the 29-year-old Ashwin will be more than happy to get into the limited-overs business in the country where he more-or-less reinvented himself last season after the recent Test success.
When question were asked about Ashwin’s performance outside the sub-continent, the Tamil Nadu off-spinner silenced everyone with clinical performance in Tests in Australia followed by a dream show in the World Cup in which he not only took wickets consistently but also gave not more than five an over in each of the eight matches.
Ashwin has never shirked responsibility, be it bowling in the first Power Play or in the last 10 overs. That’s what has made captain Dhoni go to him whenever he wanted wickets or runs to be contained.
On Tuesday prior to departure for Australia, skipper Dhoni said “Ashwin is an asset irrespective of the format”.
Speaking more on his go-to bowler, Dhoni said: “Ashwin is slightly different. He thinks a lot about his bowling and that is a positive sign. When he started, he started off really well. To some extent he slightly went down. That was the time when he was criticised a lot for his variation and everything. But one has to realise that when you are new, not many know about you. Also, with the videos and everything around, people tend to know more about you. People gather information, how you bowl what your variations are.
“One crucial thing we miss is that when you are playing in domestic circuit, you don’ play throughout the year and when you become part of the Indian team, you start playing 12 months of cricket. And when you are a spinner, playing all the formats at times is one of the reasons for your fingers getting tired. From playing 4-5 months of (domestic) cricket, all of a sudden, you are playing 12 months of active (international) cricket and you have to include IPL. It was bound to happen. The transition was bound to happen.”
The skipper was pleased Ashwin came out of that phase and had a word of advice for his bowler. “The only thing I kept telling him was ‘when you are not doing well, people will talk a lot about your variation. To me, the only difference is, for example, if you are bowling all your variations in 2ft x 4ft area, now you are bowling 4ft x 5ft area. That is the only thing lacking. Other than that, you don’t have to worry. It is bound to happen. Just focus on your bowling and you will be good.’
“Once he came back, he has been a very different bowler. He has been an asset to the team irrespective of the format and he has been somebody who I have always relied on. He is not someone who has bowled after 10 overs from 11th to 35th. I have used him in the first 10 and also from 40-45. He has been good for me, just makes my job slightly easy, especially for a consistent period of time when my fast bowlers have not done well. It is good to have him.”
The conditions that Indians will get in India for World T20 may not be the same as they face in Australia. But Dhoni is happy that Ashwin and his other bowlers get to play three back-to-back T20s.
Ashwin and left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja formed a potent pair in the recent Tests against South Africa, albeit on spin-friendly tracks. The two combined well in Australia in the World Cup before the Saurashtra spinner lost his way.
“What happens most of the times is that you see a spinner’s performance outside the sub-continent and then you see his performance in the sub-continent, you assume they are back in form and they have done really good.
You should have different criteria to judge players performing outside the continent and in India because the spinners will get a lot more assistance over here as compared to when they play outside,” Dhoni offered.
“I think Jadeja is bowling really well. Ashwin has been our premier spinner irrespective of where we have played. He has been very consistent with his performance also. It will be good to have Jadeja but at the same time Axar (Patel) is also in the team, so we have two spinning all-rounders who are competing for a slot which I feel will be very good for the team because all the people agree that both of them are good spinners but at the same time we need somebody who can contribute with the bat too.
“It is an open opportunity for both of them. I feel both of them (Jadeja and Patel) are good when it comes to the talent aspect, it is just that they have to take that next leap getting into the international level.
“The way Axar played in the domestic one-dayers (Vijay Hazare Trophy), he batted really well. In the bowling, I don’t think there is anything that concerns us between the two.”
As they say in cricket, it is good to have a problem of plenty.